Qantas chief Alan Joyce says the reaction from frequent flyers to the first two Project Sunrise test flights has boosted his confidence about demand for the ultra-long-haul services.
The newly-completed London-Sydney test is the second ultra-long-range flight for Joyce after last month’s historic New York-Sydney marathon.
Joyce said frequent flyers on both flights, which the airline hopes will be precursors to regular non-stop flights from eastern Australia to New York and London, had been extremely positive about the experience.
He pointed to advantages such as saving three hours of travel time and being able to get a decent night’s sleep without being disturbed by having to get off the aircraft.
“The frequent flyers that do this regularly have all said the same thing: they would absolutely do this,’’ he said, noting that this had also been the reaction from UK journalists on the flight and Australia’s High commissioner to the UK, George Brandis.
“It’s given me a lot more confidence that the demand will be there for these flights.”
Asked whether he would be willing to test economy class for 19 hours, Joyce said the 17-hour London-Perth service had the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any route on the Qantas international network.
He said the airline was looking at a dedicated exercise area for economy passengers with Sunrise and “more seat pitch than we’ve ever put on an aircraft”.
Qantas hoped to specialize in ultra-long-haul flights and wanted people to leave the aircraft “telling their friends and family, telling their colleagues, this is the way to go”, he added.
The flight took 19 hours and 19 minutes and landed in Sydney Friday with more than 90 minutes of fuel in reserve.
It had about 50 people on board who followed a special regime and were monitored by sleep experts.
The flight from London Heathrow flew across 11 countries including England, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Philippines and Indonesia before crossing the Australian coast near Darwin and tracking southeast across Australia towards Sydney.
Qantas still has to make a decision on whether to proceed with Sunrise although it is convinced the aircraft competing for the project, the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350-1000, can do the missions.
Joyce said it was now a commercial decision that would look at factors such as getting the right price from Boeing and Airbus, convincing the regulator to allow an extended tour of duty for pilots and deciding on cabin products.
Dialogue was also continuing with Qantas pilots on productivity improvements Joyce has previously warned are necessary for the project to proceed.
When the airline would place an order would depend on when it could get all the items closed, he said.
“But the intention is to make a decision this year and an order could follow into early next year.’’
It was the second time Qantas has flown non-stop from London, the first flight involved a Boeing 747-400 in 1989, and the airline used the arrival to launch its centenary celebrations.
The aircraft in 100th-anniversary livery was met by more than 1,000 Qantas employees as well as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
Thie celebrations s included an announcement by the Royal Australian Mint that five million $1 coins commemorating the anniversary will go into general circulation from February 2020.
The Mint is also issuing an 11-piece collector’s set featuring aircraft from across the decades, including the Avro, Catalina Flying Boat, Boeing 707 and 747 and Airbus A380.
Qantas chairman Richard Goyder described the airline as a national icon.
“We started in outback Queensland carrying mail and a few passengers in the 1920s,” he said.
“We grew as Australia grew, and we’ve had important support roles during wars, national disasters and celebrations.
“Our founders talked about overcoming the tyranny of distance and through the years we’ve moved from bi-planes to single wing, to jets to help bring things closer.”