Qantas plans to launch ultra-long-haul flights from Australia to London and New York in 2024

The Australian airline hopes to revive 'Project Sunrise' later this year

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Qantas plans to introduce the world's longest passenger flights from Australia to London and New York in 2024.

Known as Project Sunrise, the ultra-long-haul flights were initially scheduled for a launch date in early 2023.

Those plans were "put on ice" because of Covid-19, said Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas.

Speaking during a Eurocontrol Straight Talk interview on Tuesday, Joyce confirmed the airline was keen on forging ahead with the project.

"Before Covid-19, we had done three test flights, I flew on two of them. They were an amazing experience. We had picked an aircraft and were literally weeks away from ordering it. We had done the deal with Airbus. We had done a deal with our pilots," explained Joyce.

Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce speaks during a press conference in Sydney, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Qantas, Australia's largest airline, says it plans to cut at least 6,000 jobs and keep 15,000 more workers on extended furloughs as it tries to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Joyce announced a plan to reduce costs by billions of dollars and raise fresh capital. The plan includes grounding 100 planes for a year or more and immediately retiring its six remaining Boeing 747 planes. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP Image via AP)

"We still want to revisit it at the end of '21, with the potential of doing it in '24 probably, and onwards," he said.

What is Project Sunrise?

A Qantas Dreamliner ahead of take-off on the first direct Perth to London flight in March 2018. Project Sunrise flights from Australia to London and New York will surpass this route as the longest in Qantas's network. Courtesy Qantas

The Project Sunrise operation got under way last year when Qantas flew record-breaking research flights as part of its plans to introduce new ultra-long-haul commercial flights.

Test flights from New York to Sydney and from London to Australia recorded times of just under 20 hours apiece. They gave the airline almost 60 hours of "Sunrise flying" experience and several data points on crew and passenger well-being during longer hauls.

The airline decided that the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft would be best-suited to operate the new routes, but the pandemic stopped any further progress.

If Qantas does introduce Project Sunrise flights commercially, they would take the title of the longest flight time from Qantas's existing Perth to London non-stop service. This was introduced in March 2018, but is currently paused because of Covid-19.

Joyce told Euromonitor on Tuesday that before the pandemic the Perth to London route was Qantas's most profitable, and has "the highest customer satisfaction for any route on Qantas's network, despite being the longest flight".

Passengers will need Covid-19 vaccine to fly

Qantas is now flying to more destinations in Australia than it was before the pandemic, including to Merimbula. Wikimedia Commons

Travellers hoping to fly on Qantas flights in the future will need to have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Joyce has said that vaccinations against the virus would become a prerequisite for international travellers once they become freely available.

For now, the airline has grounded almost all of its international flights in response to the pandemic. Domestically, it is rebuilding its network.

Qantas is now selling fares on flights to 62 destinations across Australia – that's five more than it was operating to pre-Covid-19.

The airline has introduced new flights from Sydney to Merimbula on the New South Wales Sapphire Coast, and will also fly to Griffith in February.

From Melbourne, Qantas will add flights to Newcastle, Merimbula, Mount Gambier, Wagga Wagga and Albury in February and March.