Qantas continues to nurture its plans for ultra-long-haul flying under the Project Sunrise banner. The delayed flights would fly from Sydney to cities like New York or London in a single hop. But when, or if, Project Sunrise flights ever get underway has become somewhat of a soap opera.
From the IATA AGM in Boston last weekend, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce gave an insight into the latest Project Sunrise plans at Qantas HQ.
“We’ll be picking up where we left off with our direct flights to London and New York as part of Project Sunrise, which we hope will start operating in 2024/25,” he said.
The latest thinking on Project Sunrise flags a 2024/25 start date
Project Sunrise is a bit of a pet project for Mr Joyce. Some might say it will become his swansong. One theory is he’ll sign off at Qantas after getting Project Sunrise flights up and running, his already shiny CV getting an added luster.
But COVID-19 delayed many best-laid plans. Qantas was on the verge of signing for 12 modified Airbus A350-1000 planes to operate the Project Sunrise flights early last year. Qantas had come to terms with flight crews, unions, and nutted out the business case for Project Sunrise.
Within weeks, as borders closed and bookings dried up, Qantas delayed any decision on Project Sunrise and deferred all existing and future aircraft orders. Since then, Mr Joyce has bobbed up every three months or so to spruik the case for Project Sunrise – or at least keep the concept alive.
This time last year, Mr Joyce declined to provide a timeline for when he might order the planes and when he thought Project Sunrise flights would commence.
Earlier this year, he was on firmer ground, saying he anticipated revisiting the case for Project Sunrise later in 2021, with flights tentatively resuming sometime in 2024.
“We still want to revisit it at the end of ’21, with the potential of doing it [introducing scheduled Project Sunrise flights] in ’24, probably, and onwards,” he said.
Qantas counts on demand for long-haul flying rebounding
Since February, Mr Joyce’s position on Project Sunrise hasn’t shifted, although it would be a surprise if an aircraft order was announced before 2022. However, Qantas does like dropping the odd surprise – it keeps everyone on their toes.
The Qantas boss has argued since COVID-19 began that long-haul flying will bounce back, although 18 months into the pandemic long-haul is failing to gain much traction while there is decent recovery in localized short-haul flying in many markets.
However, the failure of long-haul flying to take off can largely be attributed to closed borders, health concerns, and quarantine issues. Once the vaccination rollout has rendered those issues redundant, significant amounts of intercontinental travel are likely to resume.
At least, Qantas is counting on that. When the long-haul market does rebound, Mr Joyce thinks there will be a preference for point-to-point travel that avoids the forecasted post-COVID hassles of transits and layovers. Alan Joyce believes people will pay a premium to do this, and he has argued that makes the case for Project Sunrise even more compelling.
When it comes to business, Mr Joyce is not sentimental. But he’d surely like to exit Qantas on a career high. And there would be few bigger career highs than being responsible for those first Project Sunrise flights departing.
What do you think the prospects for Project Sunrise are? When do you think an aircraft order is likely? Post a comment and let us know.