With plans to retire its last Boeing 747 aircraft by the end of 2020, Qantas is scoping out the potential replacement for its jumbos on transoceanic flights from Sydney to Santiago and Johannesburg.
Traditionally requiring a larger four-engined aircraft like the Boeing 747, Qantas is now in a position to consider smaller jets like the Boeing 787, or its upcoming Project Sunrise planes, to take over these 12-14 hour flights.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce confirms that the “ETOPS requirements that these aircraft are certified to will allow us to do both routes.”
ETOPS refers to the restrictions placed on twin-engined aircraft by aviation regulators, which limit how far commercial flights can venture from a safe landing point on the ground: a cap that's particularly relevant on long over-water flights, and which varies from one aircraft type to the next.
That said, Qantas' Boeing 787s come with 128 fewer seats on board compared to the airline's Boeing 747s, which Joyce views as an opportunity to increase the regularity of its Southern Hemisphere flights.
“It’s a smaller aircraft, the Boeing 787, so it allows you to build up the frequency on those routes. At the moment, we don’t have daily flights all the time on these routes… so for us, South Africa and South America isn’t going to be a problem.”
South Africa and South America are both potential destinations for the globe-striding Project Sunrise jets, although they haven't received the fanfare of promised non-stop flights to London or New York.
Qantas expects to place a multibillion-dollar order for its Project Sunrise fleet before the year is out, with Airbus and Boeing each due to submit a "best and final offer" for ultra-long range versions of their respective A350 and 777X jets.
The Project Sunrise aircraft will feature four cabins with all-new first class, business class, premium economy and economy seating plus a space dedicated to "exercise, health and wellbeing", and take wing in 2022-2023.
Qantas will also take delivery of six new Boeing 787 jets from late this year through to the end of 2020, boosting the size of the Dreamliner fleet to 14 and enabling retirement of the Boeing 747s, although some jumbo jet routes such as Sydney-Tokyo may be taken over by an Airbus A380.
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.