Qantas CEO says supersonic flights can’t go the distance

Qantas CEO says supersonic flights can’t go the distance

Given the fierce rivalry between Qantas and Virgin Australia, it should have been predictable that once Virgin CEO John Borghetti voiced his confidence in a supersonic future, Alan Joyce would share a contrary view.

“We would have been very keen to have supersonic aircraft, but there is a trade-off between supersonic speed and distance,” Joyce remarked to Australian Business Traveller in Seattle ahead of last week’s delivery of the airline’s first Boeing 787.

“We put an order in for six Boeing 2707 SSTs and four Concordes, and we even have models of them in Qantas colours from when we placed those orders.”

“But the problems when Qantas looked at supersonic flight in the 1960s are problems that have still not been overcome.”

One challenge was environmental concerns over the impact of the sonic boom, “which most communities have banned and so you can only fly over water,” Joyce says.

That said, Qantas worked with the Australian government to carve out several ‘supersonic flight corridors’ for the Boeing 2707 across Australia which could link the east coast capitals to Singapore, where a connecting British Airways supersonic flight would take passengers on to London via Bahrain.

Another problem was the limited range of the fuel-guzzling jets: “Concorde itself only barely got to the United States from Europe,” Joyce reflects.

“When Boeing looked at the Sonic Cruiser we were still keen on having aircraft that fly faster. But while you’d love to have the speed and the distance, I think that distance is where the game is for Qantas."

Distance is of course the new frontier for Qantas, with the trumpeted non-stop Boeing 787-9 service from Perth to London – and potentially Paris and Germany – a stepping stone to direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London and New York

David Flynn visited Seattle as a guest of Qantas

David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


  • reeves35


    27 Oct, 2017 08:00 am

    Both AJ and JB are correct. There are significant issues in successfully bringing a supersonic to market including cost and environmental issues but it is also true that the greatest improvement for high value customers is the ability to get to their destination sooner and a SST is the only realistic way this can be meaninfully achieved.

    Both Boeing and Airbus understand the attractiveness of a marketable SST. Given the incredible investment involved in bringing one to market, it is possible that the only way it could happen is via a JV between the 2 OEMs.
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  • elchriss0


    27 Oct, 2017 08:29 am

    lol might as well throw a pig in the air and wait for it to fly
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  • AB__CD


    27 Oct, 2017 10:47 am

    We want that pig to be supersonic too.
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  • elchriss0


    28 Oct, 2017 11:28 am

    I expect to be served roast pork when flying in the supersonic pig
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  • GregXL


    27 Oct, 2017 09:26 am

    AJ is selling Qantas’s vision of expanded direct services to Eu and Nth America. Aside from the question of “with a full passenger load” it is achievable in the next 5 years. JB doesn’t have clear direction for VA international, so he is talking about what might happen in 10 years.

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  • riley


    27 Oct, 2017 11:11 am

    I’m sure there’s a lot of numbers behind his thinking and it would be all around the economics / what they can sell. Any passegener will want to get to the destination quicker but supersonic jets are like the high speed train furphy that pops up every few years. You won’t be able to catch a train from Sydney to Melbourne for the cost of a metro ticket nor will you be able to fly to LA in 4 hours for the cost of an economy ticket. So distance, by reducing stops, gets you there quicker.

    I’m still dubious about qantas believing the 17+ hour flight, with the Melbourne connection is actually going to sell as a premium.
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  • John Goss


    27 Oct, 2017 01:25 pm

    I am pretty certain if the United States was geographically located where Australia is, Supersonic travel would be common place in and out of this continent and we would all enjoy the AUSBT comments and stories on it.
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  • Alex_upgrade


    27 Oct, 2017 03:36 pm

    Agreed. But where would Australia be? Or would we be reading AmBT?

    Happy Friday peoples...
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  • walterong


    28 Oct, 2017 01:14 pm

    As with most things, It’s all economies of scale... population of Australia is <<10% of the USoA
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  • Russjking


    27 Oct, 2017 03:48 pm

    Supersonic Sydney to Perth would be the logical route. Imagine how good it would be bringing Perth into the 2-3hr distance bracket like all the other capitals. No longer is it a trek and a day lost to flying.
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  • watson374


    27 Oct, 2017 05:24 pm

    I would argue that the flagship supersonic routes would be the big transpacific runs like Sydney to Los Angeles, due to their established year-round strong and premium-heavy demand as well as being almost entirely over open ocean. Because Concorde only had transatlantic range, not transpacific, this could not have been realised the last time around, but hopefully engine and fuel technology will have advanced enough when we try again.

    (The resultant transpacific jetlag would be hysterical, but that is a somewhat separate matter.)
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  • traveller99


    28 Oct, 2017 04:38 am

    The main problem is the supersonic boom. The "boom" isn't just limited to passing through the sound barrier. It continues as long as the plane is faster than sound so any land it passed over gets the boom.

    So flying Australia east coast to the USA would alleviate that issue. But most other roles would cause issues.
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  • watson374


    28 Oct, 2017 03:57 pm

    It does indeed, although apparently the sonic boom is 'negligible' on the ground until Mach 1.2 is passed, and work is being done on reducing the sonic boom to 'acceptable' levels.

    For supersonic air travel to be commercially viable this time around, I would argue that the transpacific markets are everything—particularly given routes like Sydney to Los Angeles and Hong Kong to San Fransisco have strong, premium-heavy demand and are almost entirely over open ocean.
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  • Orus Picarous


    28 Oct, 2017 10:23 am

    I suspect in Australia only places you could put supersonic plane would be Cairns/Darwin for runs to HKG, etc. and SYD/MEL/BNE for twice daily runs to AKL, or from PER-SIN.
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18 Jul, 2019 05:36 pm


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