Qantas is weighing up the ultra-long range Airbus A350 for its post-2020 fleet as the airline begins to redraw its network map around non-stop flights of 16+ hours.
Speaking on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference in Dublin this week, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said he was "absolutely" looking at the A350-900ULR, which Asian competitor Singapore Airlines will begin flying in 2018 to relaunch non-stop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York.
"You always look at all the options out there to make sure you're picking the one with the right economics" Joyce said, stacking the long-legged A350 against the Boeing 777-8X.
"And we have a bit of time on this, the 8X is not going to be available until 2022-2023, maybe a bit later. And Boeing and Airbus always keep some slots back for big brands like Qantas, so we would be able to get availability when we need it."
Discussions with Airbus, Boeing
Joyce and Qantas International CEO Gareth Evans said the airline is working with Airbus and Boeing to ensure that both of the next-gen jets are capable of flying the very long stretches required by Qantas.
"We've been in discussions with Boeing around the 777s for a while, and with Airbus on what they working on from a long-term perspective," Evans said.
"Over the next five years, as these aircraft come in, we want to be in the forefront of that and ensure the aircraft arrive with the right specifications that let us develop the right network over the next decade."
"We're really interested in aircraft that can fly a very long way, and the 777-8X and 9X are very interesting aeroplanes for us in the long term" he added.
Both the A350-900ULR and Boeing 777-8X are engineered to fly non-stop for as many as 19 hours, although carrying fewer travellers than a regular jet.
That range meshes with Qantas' plans to extend its network with non-stop flights to more distant destinations.
In it for the long haul
"We've always operated some of the longest flights in the world, it's the nature of where Australia is" explains Joyce.
"Qantas has great unique IP in how we do that, our pilots and our engineers are very good at how we manage fuel and flight planning on these routes," he continues.
Joyce says this is "good expertise" to share with Airbus and Boeing "and hopefully be able to shape those products so that they work for the network that we can envisage in the future."
"This is why we bought the 787-9, because it has that long haul capability, and why we’d like to have the 777x and the A350 long haul eventually... it completely changes the game for Qantas because it allows us to have a network we could only have dreamed of in the past, and offer our customers more direct destinations."
"The opportunity to open up something like a Sydney-New York direct or a Sydney-London direct would be fantastic," Evans adds.
But there's no rushing such a crucial decision, nor an investment in buying multiple aircraft with a list price as high as US$400 million each.
"We want to make sure the aircraft is fully spec’d to where we want, and that takes a bit of time and a bit of work" Joyce says. "There's a bit of tweaking to the aircraft in order to get it there, but we've got plenty of time."
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