Qantas has unveiled details of the ultra-long-haul aircraft it plans to run on non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York by the end of 2025, as the airline’s battered financial situation shows signs of improving.
Confirming reports that have swirled in recent days, Qantas announced its mega order with French plane manufacturer Airbus for 12 of its A350-1000 aircraft. These will be run on the so-called “Project Sunrise” flights, with the first to be delivered in 2025.
The airline says the planes will be “capable of flying direct from Australia to any other city” in the world, while being 25% more fuel efficient than previous aircraft.
The wide-body planes will be able to carry 238 passengers, and will feature “wellbeing zones” for passengers to move about in the cabin as a way to break up the ultra-long-haul flights that will reach up to 20 hours.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said Project Sunrise is “the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance” and that the cabin of the A350s “is being specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying”.
The airline has planned the project for years, with the pandemic delaying its launch. The flights will run up to 20 hours without stopping and become among the world’s longest.
Qantas has also ordered an additional 40 Airbus aircraft – A321XLRs and A220-300s – for domestic operations, with the first of these aircraft to be delivered next year. The deal is understood to be valued in the billions of dollars.
While the airline says the exact cost of the new planes is commercial-in-confidence, it said “a significant discount from the standard price should be assumed”.
On the orders to refresh its domestic fleet, Joyce said the range and economics of the new planes Qantas had ordered “will make new direct routes possible, including serving regional cities better” and that “these newer aircraft and engines will reduce emissions by at least 15% if running on fossil fuels, and significantly better when run on sustainable aviation fuel”.
Qantas Group – which includes budget carrier Jetstar – also released its third quarter financial update on Monday. While the resurgence of domestic and some international travel markets has boosted revenue, the airline still expects to post “a significant” full-year loss. Net debt has reduced from $5.5bn at the end of December to $4.5bn by the end of April.
On the cost of the mammoth aircraft order, Joyce said the phasing of delivery means “it can be funded within our debt range and through earnings”, and that “the business case for Project Sunrise has an internal rate of return in the mid-teens”.
“The board’s decision to approve what is the largest aircraft order in Australian aviation is a clear vote of confidence in the future of the Qantas Group. Our strategy for these aircraft will see us generate significant benefits for those who make it possible – our people, our customers and our shareholders,” Joyce said.