Come the end of 2025 no two cities on earth will be too far apart for a nonstop flight. Qantas officially confirmed its plans to purchase A350-1000 aircraft in an ultra-longhaul configuration capable of flying from Sydney to London or New York City or anywhere else on earth without a stop on the way. The carrier will eventually take delivery of a dozen planes for this effort.
Throughout our history, the aircraft we’ve flown have defined the era we’re in. The 707 introduced the jet age, the 747 democratized travel and the A380 brought a completely new level of comfort. The A350 and Project Sunrise will make any city just one flight away from Australia. It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance. As you’d expect, the cabin is being specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying.– Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO
Newer (and fewer) seats, more comfort on the Qantas A350-1000ULR
With plans to routinely fly 20ish hour trips, the on-board experience is more significant than ever. Qantas will keep all four classes of service on board, including a new first class mini-suite. It will also introduce a wellness zone to help passengers in the back stay more comfortable in flight.
The new A350-1000 will offer 6 new first class suites, 52 business class flat beds, 40 premium economy seats, and 140 economy seats. The total of 238 seats on board is, by about 30%, the lightest capacity layout for any A350-1000 operator globally. That layout is necessary for delivering the range needed to fly these new routes; a more normal seating layout would be too heavy to make the trip. That it means extra comfort for passengers is something of a bonus.
New first class suites for Qantas
The six first class seats on board will offer a private space for travelers in a 1-1-1 layout. Each suite includes both a seat and a bed, allowing passengers to switch between them as needed to stay comfortable on the long trip.
A giant screen, closet to hang up clothes, fancy lights, and other fun bits round out the space.
Well-being for everyone
The cabin will also feature a “well-being zone” between the premium economy and economy cabins. Passengers in those spaces will already have some of the most spacious long-haul seating options flying, at 40″ pitch in premium economy and 33″ in economy.
With fewer passengers on board the airline can also reallocate galley space for stretching and other activity. Guided exercise programs are part of the promised offering, though details remain limited for now.
The space also includes a walk-up snack bar for economy class passengers, a benefit typically reserved for premium cabins.
Indeed, the business class cabin will also have a self-service bar area. But other than that, and that all 52 lie-flat beds will have direct aisle access, we know very little about the business class product. It is also 3+ years away, so plenty of time to grab more media cycles with future releases.
A bit of greenwashing along the way
Qantas also highlights the improved fuel efficiency of the new aircraft, noting that it burns 25% less fuel per seat than prior generation aircraft. Airbus touts the same number in its marketing materials. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to hold up in this case. The fuel efficiency numbers are based on flying full aircraft. By flying with 30% fewer seats compared to other airlines much of it is eliminated.
The company also notes that “Project Sunrise will be carbon neutral from day one.” This comes in the form of buying carbon offsets rather than actually reducing emissions. It is better than nothing, perhaps, but not stellar.
Finally, the efficiency of ultra-longhaul flying is rarely a good story. The amount of extra fuel required to carry fewer passengers longer distances means that even if every flight was fully operated on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the amount burned would be more than what is required for connecting flights today. And there are serious questions as to whether the global SAF supply can ramp up fast enough to meet commercial aviation’s demand.
Firming the single-aisle order
Finally, as part of the news Qantas also firmed its order for the A321XLR and A220 as part of Project Winton, its single-aisle fleet upgrade. This order was first announced in December 2021, with deliveries anticipated from late 2023. The Group’s first A321LRs are due from July 2022, entering service at JetStar.
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