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Qantas CEO Confirms A350 Is Still The Target For Project Sunrise

It will be a long time coming, but Project Sunrise remains on the agenda at Qantas. On Thursday, Qantas boss Alan Joyce affirmed the airline’s commitment to the ultra long-haul flights and the A350 aircraft that will eventually operate them.

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Despite delays, Qantas remains keen on Project Sunrise and the A350 operating aircraft. Photo: Qantas

Qantas still keen on Project Sunrise

At a media briefing following the announcement of an annual US$1.24 billion loss on Thursday, CEO Alan Joyce spoke at length about the future of Qantas’ international flights. Despite hitting the pause button on Project Sunrise flights in 2020, Joyce remains keen on the idea.

“We are still very keen to revisit the business case,” Alan Joyce said. “We believe there will be strong demand for people flying directly into the UK and US post-COVID.”

In December 2019, Qantas selected a modified version of the Airbus A350-1000 to operate Project Sunrise flights. Under the flagship plan, Qantas jets would fly primarily from Sydney nonstop to cities like London and New York.

Right now, Qantas has the jets to fly the distance nonstop. But the existing planes cannot do it with a big enough payload to make money. The modified A350s will make the globe-spanning routes viable.

While COVID temporarily put the brakes on Project Sunrise and international travel in general, there’s a possible silver lining for Qantas. Alan Joyce has previously pointed out people will veer away from transiting in favor of point-to-point travel due to COVID.

Whether this will be a long-term trend or the lure of a weekend in Singapore will eventually see most people happy to start transiting again on long-haul routes, the Qantas boss has said if the trend towards long-haul point-to-point travel holds up, it bodes well for the Project Sunrise model.

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Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas boss says he’ll revisit Project Sunrise when borders re-open

But Mr Joyce put a caveat on any Project Sunrise announcement yesterday. He had previously flagged locking in Project Sunrise by next Easter. Now, the Qantas boss is more circumspect. He wants to see an end to border closures and travel restrictions before he signs on the dotted line with Airbus.

Will come back to it (Project Sunrise) when we see light on international borders opening up,” Mr Joyce said yesterday.

Buoyed by improving vaccination rates at home and elsewhere, the Qantas boss is more bullish than most about Australia’s international borders opening up anytime soon.

“It’s clear the rest of the world is opening up, especially across the UK, Europe, and United States,” the Qantas CEO said. “Australia now also has a plan for re-opening. And based on that plan, we’ve reshaped our own assumptions about restarting international flights.”

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There are changes afoot across the future Qantas international network, Photo: Qantas

Project Sunrise still part of Qantas’ future international network

Qantas plans to gradually resume international flying from December based on that re-opening plan. Unfortunately, Australia’s re-opening plan is about as solid as a snowman on a hot summer’s day.

Alan Joyce has some interesting plans for Qantas international. He’s talking about ditching Perth as a stopover for London-bound flights in favor of Darwin – a much-needed slapdown the Perth-based Western Australia Government. The Qantas boss wants to bring back A380s as soon as next July and start flying Airbus A330s to the United States again.

Project Sunrise is staying in the mix at Qantas. But it might be some time before the Project Sunrise A350s take flight. In the meantime, the Singapore / LAX transits will continue to be a feature of Qantas’ long-haul flying to future Project Sunrise destinations.

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