Qantas wants to fly non-stop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, and Boeing wants those passengers to be flying on its next-generation Boeing 777-8 jetliner.
The airline manufacturer says that the 777-8 – the long-range member of the 777X family, compared to the larger 777-9 – can already make direct flights from Sydney to London: despite this being a 17,000km route when Boeing lists the 777-8's reach at just over 16,100km.
"We know the airplane can make the range today," says Jim Freitas, Managing Director for Boeing's product marketing and analysis.
"It just depends on how many passengers you want to carry, the weight per passenger including their bags, and how much cargo you want.”
Going the distance
Boeing lists the capacity of the Boeing 777-8 as between 350 and 375 passengers in two cabin classes, Freitas says, in order to achieve its 16,100km range.
"It's based on a standard two-class interior but there is no airline in the world that flies a standard interior,' Freitas explains.
"They all have a custom interior, different classes and number of seats and seat weights – there are many variables.”
Boeing’s 777-8 is up against the Airbus A350-900ULR in the race to build a globe-striding jet to Qantas’ spec, with Air New Zealand also eying the 777-8 for non-stop flights between Auckland and New York.
Qantas and Boeing have already begun crunching the numbers on right-sizing the 777-8 for these long-legged routes, says Qantas Group C EO Alan Joyce.
“Our ideal is to have all of our classes on board the aircraft, we know there’s a certain amount of business and premium economy and economy we have to have to make the economics work.”
Speaking at Boeing's Everett factory in Seattle, ahead of the delivery of the airline's first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, Joyce added that direct flights can “absolutely” be priced above stop-over routes.
“We can see that on Perth-London, but there is a limit on what that premium is, because prices still have to be competitive against other airlines.”
However, skipping a stop-over can also save money for the airline.
“We fly aircraft to New York every day but we have to stop at LA, so our economics are impacted by that,” Joyce said.
Beyond London and New York
Joyce says he wants Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to host non-stop flights to New York and London, “and we’d love to be able to fly direct to Brazil, into Rio and Capetown.”
But such a far-reaching network map would require a substantial fleet.
“As with the Boeing 787s, eight is the minimum (to start with) but we’re like to have a lot more than that. You have to get into the teens for the aircraft to have a minimal viable base of operation.”
“We have to replace the A380s and the Boeing 747-400ERs, so some of these will replace existing aircraft but also allow us to change the network when we the take the aircraft in.”
David Flynn is visiting Seattle as a guest of Qantas