Fares for the first Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner service will go on sale on Christmas Day as Melbourne-Los Angeles becomes the airline’s first route to operate the new plane on December 15 next year.
The 236-seat, three-class aircraft will complement the daily Airbus A380 service already flying between Melbourne and Los Angeles and will operate six times per week. It replaces a twice weekly service operated by a 364-seat Boeing 747, increasing the number of return services from nine a week to and adding 1400 seats to the route.
Qantas International chief executive Gareth Evans said the arrival of the Dreamliner would be a step change for the airline and for customers, both in terms of operational efficiency and passenger comfort.
“We’ll be working with Visit Victoria on joint marketing campaigns to highlight what Victoria and the Qantas Dreamliner have to offer,” said Mr Evans said during a visit to the Boeing Aerostructures facility in Melbourne, which manufactures 787 components.
Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan said the move was an intelligent one by Qantas.
“Yesterday’s international arrivals figures highlight the seemingly insatiable level of demand for Australia amongst American travellers,’’ Mr O’Sullivan said. “We welcomed just shy of 700,000 American visitors in the past 12 months, with growth on a scale we haven’t enjoyed since the heady days of the Sydney Olympics, back in 2000.
“The B787 Dreamliner delivers an exceptional experience for long-haul fliers and Qantas have been very shrewd in making sure they service this blue-ribbon tourism corridor with the very best of their hard product.’’
The new route comes after Qantas announced on Sunday that it would forge ahead with the historic luanch of Boeing 787 services to London.
The green light for the ultra-long-haul route came at a special event which saw WA Premier Colin Barnett, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Perth Airport boss Kevin Brown end a dispute over the service to announce a deal had been struck to set up a western hub for the airline’s international flights.
The stand-off ended after business leaders and politicians weighed into the debate to support the new route and its economic and tourism advantages.
Under the deal, the hub will be situated at the airline’s domestic terminal on the west side of the airport.
Qantas takes delivery of its first 236-seat 787-9 late next year and the first non-stop service to London is scheduled to begin in March, 2018.
The 14,498km flight, which will take about 17 hours on the Perth-London leg and 15 hours coming back, will be the first ever non-stop flight between Australia and Europe.
Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce described it as a watershed for travel, tourism and trade.
“When Qantas created the Kangaroo Route to London in 1947, it took four days and nine stops,’’ he said. ”Now it will take just 17 hours from Perth non-stop.
“This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft. Australians have never had a direct link to Europe before, so the opportunities this opens up are huge.
“It’s great news for travellers because it will make it easier to get to London. It’s great news for Western Australia because it will bring jobs and tourism. And it’s great news for the nation because it will bring us closer to one of our biggest trade partners and sources of visitors.”
Mr Joyce also expects the direct route to appeal to travellers on Australia's East Coast, helping to deliver a further tourism boost.
“A direct flight makes travelling to Australia a much more attractive proposition to millions of people,'' he said. "We expect many travellers from Europe will start their time in Australia with a visit to Perth before going on to see other parts of the country.''
Euromonitor International travel analysis project manager Nadejda Poplova said experience showed passenger traffic “could triple on a new non-stop route.’’ and predicted Europeans would now look at Australia in a new light as a travel destination.
“Passengers do not like to stop and this impacts their travel making decision,’’ she said. ““Australia is a long way and being non-stop will make a significant difference.
"Non-stops are very important in the travel decision process both for business and leisure travellers, and for the elderly or with children.”
The news was welcomed by the tourism industry with Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan hailing the enormous potential of the Qantas investment in ultra-long-haul aircraft for an industry where time and distance were traditionally perceived as competitive obstacles.
"Europe is such a critical source market for us, and the introduction by Qantas of direct flights between London and Perth really is a game-changing moment for Australian tourism," he said.
Mr O'Sullivan said the introduction of the new service was perfectly timed, with Perth and Western Australia undergoing an unprecedented level of tourism investment, including the recent opening of Crown Towers Perth and redevelopment plans for Elizabeth Quay.
The popularity of non-stop routes, made increasingly viable by advances in aircraft and engine technology that have boosted range and increased efficiency, is underscored by the massive growth in this type of flying.
From 1985 to 1996, the number of city pairs connected with non-stop flights grew from 6000 to 8000 and in the nine years to 2005, that number had grown to 10,200. Today it’s 14,523.
Qantas wants to expand the Perth hub’s roster of destinations with daily non-stops to Paris, Frankfurt and possibly Rome.
The Boeing 787 is one of the fastest commercial planes and it cruises at a much higher altitude thus avoiding congested airspace over Europe and the Middle-East / India that often slows flights.
Long-range non-stops are a growing part of the travel market and since it entered service in 2011 the global fleet of over 500 Boeing 787s have introduced more than 100 new non-stop routes.
The flying kangaroo has taken into account the additional travel time for the Perth-London service by equipping its Boeing 787s with next-generation seating that includes comfortable new business suites and a custom modified economy seat that gives those who travel at the back of the plane an extra inch (2.5cms) of leg room.
The aircraft will seat 42 passengers in business on seats that are an evolution of its acclaimed Thomson Aero Seating A330 suites, 166 in economy seats and 28 in the premium economy cabin.
The Qantas next generation Recaro economy seats, will be in a 3-3-3 configuration and offer a 6-inch seat recline. They are fitted with a bigger 12-inch high definition touch screen and a personal electronic device holder that will allow users to set up a tablet.
A major reason for the widespread support for the route was the significant economic potential, particularly of the four daily services develop.
Economic forecasts based on half the passengers being foreign inbound put the contribution as high as $A650 million per year, with up to 7000 jobs created.
This would be a big boost to the substantial impact the Qantas Group already makes to the state.
A Deloitte Access Economics released by airline earlier this month showed WA accounted for 10 per cent of overall passenger departures by Qantas and Jetstar. This translated into a contribution to the WA economy of just over $A1 billion and directly or indirectly supported 4,232 full-time equivalent jobs.
Tourists travelling on Qantas Group airlines also directly or indirectly facilitated tourism spending in the state worth $A1.4 billion.