Australia's Qantas firms up plans for world's longest commercial flight

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Qantas Airways QAN.AX is set to formally announce plans to offer 20-hour non-stop flights from Sydney to London by 2022 if Airbus SE AIR.PA or Boeing Co BA.N can deliver aircraft that meet the distance, a source familiar with the matter said.

Qantas flight QF1, an A380 aircraft, takes off from Sydney International Airport en route to Dubai, above Botany Bay, in Australia August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The flight from Sydney to London will on most days take a northern polar route rather than the usual western crossing over Asia and Europe, said the source, who did not want to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

An announcement is expected alongside the airline’s annual results on Friday, the source added.

The polar route is longer than the 9,200 nautical miles (17,038 kilometers) western route but has the benefit of strong tailwinds rather than fierce headwinds. The route could vary depending on the time of year, but the return flight will likely follow the traditional route, the source added.

“The smart way is not to fight the winds. Use them,” Leeham Co analyst Bjorn Fehrm said in a note to clients speculating about a 10,000 nautical miles polar route in June.

A non-stop Sydney-London route that is three hours shorter than flights involving stops would allow Qantas to charge a premium and differentiate its product from the around two dozen other airlines plying the so-called Kangaroo route with stop-offs in Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong.

Analysts estimate Qantas could price its tickets at a 20 percent premium in return for delivering business travelers to their destination more quickly. It will cut a current stop in Dubai, the hub of Qantas partner Emirates.

To improve passenger experience during what is slated to be the world’s longest-ever commercial flight, cutting across 10 time zones, Qantas has said it will work with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre on research projects including strategies to counteract jetlag, on-board exercise and movement, and cabin environment including lighting and temperature.

Chief Executive Alan Joyce has previously told Reuters the Airbus A350-900ULR and Boeing 777-8 are contenders for non-stop flights from Sydney to London and New York, but Qantas has not yet placed an aircraft order.

Qantas is pushing the planemakers hard on a stretch goal of completing the Sydney-London flight with 300 seats to give it the highest possible revenue and fleet flexibility. However, there are concerns of missing that target if Qantas wants to avoid a fuel stop on the challenging Sydney-London leg.

The new aircraft, which will replace retiring 747s, would sit alongside A380s and 787s to form the backbone of the airline’s international fleet servicing medium and long-haul routes and help it maintain its competitiveness.

Qantas has already announced plans for 17-hour non-stop Perth-London flights from March 2018 with 787-9 aircraft.

Rival Air New Zealand Ltd AIR.NZ on Wednesday said it was considering an order for A350 and 777X aircraft that would allow it to fly non-stop from its Auckland hub to New York and Brazil by 2021, targeting Australian transit traffic in competition with Qantas.

Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar