Why Qantas Ordered The Airbus A350-1000

Daniel Fowkes
13 May 2024
· Aircraft 
· Airlines 
· Analysis 
Qantas ordered the Airbus A350-1000 for Project Sunrise flights in favour of the Boeing 777X, but what led to this decision?

One project expected to redefine long-haul travel is Qantas’ Project Sunrise. With flights exceeding 20 hours nonstop, the airline selected the A350-1000, but why did it order this aircraft type over other compelling alternatives?

Introducing Project Sunrise

Project Sunrise is an initiative outlined by Qantas that aims to establish non-stop flights between Australia’s east coast cities (Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane) to vital international destinations, particularly London and New York.

Once airborne, the aim is to shatter the boundaries dictated by Australia’s geographical positioning. Through further aircraft deliveries, South American and African cities will also be targeted with the capabilities of the Airbus A350s.

The hope is to have endless opportunities to serve markets from Australia. Additionally, Qantas wants to better compete with established global airlines. These companies, such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, and more, have expanded significantly into Australia in the last decade. As a result of this expansion, they’ve successfully taken away market share from the flag carrier.

Qantas says Project Sunrise will also help address demand in the passenger market alongside an appetite for longer-range travel, which will eliminate stopovers. The service should offer customers a much quicker and hassle-free journey to their destination on the other side of the world.

Thanks to the persistent development of aircraft, flights such as these are possible. Updated technology means that ultra-long-haul flights with twin-engine planes can be conducted efficiently. A new era is upon Qantas through its Project Sunrise plans.

Airbus A350 or Boeing 777X?

Two aircraft were immediately put into the equation as options for Project Sunrise. Fittingly, they were from Airbus and Boeing, throwing two-decade-old competitors against each other to win over a contract and arguably an important one.

Project Sunrise, once airborne, will garner a lot of interest and give the chosen manufacturer a chance to show off just what its specific aircraft type is capable of with further enhancement. The A350 and 777X were pitted against each other.

Following this, the pair pitched their aircraft to Qantas, showcasing what the planes could do to ensure they stood the best chance of winning that contract when decision time occurred. However, it seemed like one aircraft type was always ahead of the other, the A350.

Many may argue this was primarily due to the A350 already being a proven aircraft type. While the 777X is, to an extent, still uncertified, in 2018, when Qantas was studying alternatives, it could truly get hands-on with the A350 series.

A Decision Is Made

After much deliberation, Qantas selected the A350-1000. This decision also came following an A350 world tour that conveniently saw the aircraft type land in Sydney, Australia.

This tour allowed Qantas engineers, executives, and crew to jump aboard a flight over Sydney to understand what the aircraft type could offer them. This experience factored in routes targeted by Project Sunrise, primarily including Sydney-London and Melbourne-London.

An Airbus A350-1000 World Tour allowed the aircraft to venture to Sydney, Australia, where Qantas officials had the time to explore and take a test flight with the jet.

Because of the distance, these routes represent some of the longest commercial air routes globally. As a result, they require meticulous planning to ensure the journey isn’t a burden. This planning made it seem like a no-brainer to select the purpose-built A350-1000, dubbed the ULR. This variant comes equipped with enhanced range capabilities just for Qantas flights.

Aircraft Delays Are Ironic For Qantas

Qantas’ Project Sunrise flights initially had an earlier start date than the 2026 delayed timeframe, ironically because of delays in obtaining the selected aircraft type.

The delays are ironic, thanks to the 777X certification problems, which were a noticeable turnoff for the Australian flag carrier, which wanted to launch these flights sooner rather than later. While the 777X presented a compelling option with its updates, there was too much risk associated with purchasing the jet and not knowing when the aircraft would be delivered.

Ultimately, this has been argued as hypocritical thanks to newfound delays with the A350. However, in the eyes of Qantas, there still would’ve been far less risk associated with moving ahead with a certified aircraft type and proven family.

The A350-1000 Over A350-900

Another important decision the airline made was to select the Airbus A350-1000 specifically. This is primarily due to Airbus offering the A350-900 and the ULR variant for operation at Singapore Airlines.

The Changi-based airline uses this aircraft in an all-premium configuration to operate flights from Singapore to Newark, among many others. However, the airline also configures its A350-900 in an all-premium layout.

Singapore Airlines utilises the Airbus AQ350ULR for mammoth flights, including service between Singapore Changi and Newark Liberty – Photo: Airbus

Qantas had, however, made it clear from the first day of announcing Project Sunrise that economy class would be featured on its aircraft. While the density would primarily be higher cabin classes, Qantas believed it was still essential to have an option for the regular traveller. Therefore, the capacity increase of the -1000 paired with Airbus’ ability to offer a purpose-built aircraft meant the decision was easy.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, Qantas’ decision to select the Airbus A350 for its Project Sunrise fleet made much sense to the company. While there have been delays in acquiring the jet, Qantas ironically backs its decision.

When the aircraft is finally airborne, completing these flights, it’ll be a sight to behold.

Do you feel the A350 was the best decision?

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