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The Worlds Longest Flight Is Coming

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Posted on : August 26, 2017

Pretty much everyone prefers a nonstop flight—business people, especially. And they are more likely than most to be in a position to afford the premium. But right now, all the money in the world won’t get you from Sydney to the Big Apple or U.K. without a pit stop, because commercial planes just don’t have that kind of range.

That may soon change. For many years, executives at Australian carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. have coveted a nonstop offering from Sydney and Melbourne to London. Now, as technology has matured, Qantas executives finally see the potential to realize that dream. Two new models planned by Airbus SE and Boeing Co., they hope, will be able to make the nonstop trip to London—20 hours and 20 minutes—from Sydney. This new model would also jet across the Pacific Ocean to New York in about 18 hours. 

On Friday, Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce issued a public “challenge” to the companies to extend the range of Boeing’s new 777X, which is slated for 2020, and the planned “Ultra-Long Range” version of Airbus’s A350, which rolls out next yearQantas hopes to take delivery of such a plane and begin its Sydney to London service in 2022, the company said as part of its full-year income results. 

Boeing’s 777X.
Source: Boeing

Qantas noted that both planes “can get close” to the requirements needed for London and New York missions. The public prodding is designed to make one or both manufacturers revisit technical schemes to edge out even greater range.

A nonstop flight from Sydney to London would shave almost four hours off current travel times that involve a stopover; for New York, travelers could save nearly three hours. Airbus, in an emailed statement, said it was equal to the challenge.

“We’ll have the A350-900 ULR in service next year for ultra-long range flights of up to 20 hours,” the company said. “We’ll look forward to working with Qantas to see how we can meet its requirements for Sydney-London non-stop.”

Boeing was slightly more circumspect. “Boeing continues to work with our customers to understand their fleet requirements and market demands,” the company said. There was a glint of rivalry, though: “The 777X will advance the world’s most efficient twin-aisle family by providing the best payload, operating economics, and range combination in the market.” 

Long-range flights have become far more common in recent years, as lighter composite aircraft, combined with more durable and fuel-efficient jet turbine technology, have opened a range of new routes with long-haul models from Airbus and Boeing. “You know from what they have done on other aircraft that Sydney-London and Melbourne-London has real possibility,” Joyce told the in April.

Earlier this year, Qantas said it would commence nonstop flights to London from Perth in March 2018, using a Boeing 787-9.

Singapore, for example, plans to use the Airbus A350-900ULR next year to restore its nonstop flights to Los Angeles and New York, five years after it quit the flights due to fuel costs. United Continental Holdings Inc. flies nonstop from San Francisco to Singapore daily, while Qantas flies from Dallas to Sydney nonstop. Both flights can top 16 hours.

Qantas flew its first so-called “Kangaroo Route” from Sydney to London in December 1947, flying a Lockheed Constellation. The trip took four days. In a few years, the kangaroo-flagged carrier hopes to do it in just over 20 hours.

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