European planemaker Airbus remains confident Qantas’ ambitious Project Sunrise will take off soon utilizing their modified A350-1000 aircraft. The Australian airline was on the cusp of ordering the aircraft early in 2020. However, the global travel downturn came out of nowhere and put the brakes on Project Sunrise and the Airbus order.
Qantas close to sealing the A350 Project Sunrise deal early in 2020
For years, Qantas has wanted to drop the stopover airport and fly nonstop from key Australian cities to far-flung destinations like New York, Frankfurt, and London. To date, no aircraft could do so and make money at the same time. But Project Sunrise aimed to overcome that handicap. Qantas issued a challenge to both Airbus and Boeing to come up with a plane to fly the distance. In late 2019, Qantas found the plane they were looking for – a modified A350-1000.
In early 2020, Qantas was expected to lock in the deal and order the planes. But the travel downturn interrupted the airline’s plans. Qantas bunkered down to ride out the financial turbulence and decided not to order any new planes in the immediate future. That included the Project Sunrise A350s.
However, Qantas has remained bullish on Project Sunrise. In April, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said he expected to reboot the plan within 12 months.
“I think it is a great strategy for the new environment post-COVID and something that we continue to be excited about. What we have to do is get the right environment. I’m hoping within the next year.”
Project Sunrise aircraft potentially a marque order for Airbus
The A350 order, while not large (Qantas was eyeing an order for 12 planes), would nonetheless shine the spotlight on the A350 and its manufacturer, Airbus. So it’s not surprising Airbus remains keen to seal the deal. Speaking to media earlier this week, Airbus Chief Commercial Officier Christian Scherer said;
“It is exactly where we left it off, and with our good friends at Qantas, we’re hoping to be able to hit the defrost button on the project as soon as possible.”
The vast bulk of Qantas’ international flying remains grounded, but many stakeholders continue to have faith in Project Sunrise and the benefits it offers. Recently, Simple Flying reported the New South Wales Government offered Qantas US$39.7 million to exclusively operate Project Sunrise flights from Sydney for five years. That requirement was one among several the Government offered in exchange for the multi-million dollar subsidy.
Prospects of a Sydney-centric Project Sunrise stirs up some controversy
Qantas hasn’t confirmed they’ve taken the deal, only that they are continuing talks. But the prospect of Sydney-centric Project Sunrise flights stirred up controversy among flyers based in Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne.
“It would be curious to know whether the Project Sunrise model can work out of a single airport for that period of time, or whether the model is reliant on having both Sydney and Melbourne operating together early on – and whether the New South Wales subsidy is enough to make up the difference over that period of time,” one reader commented to Simple Flying.
“Melbourne is a huge market of five million people, who can already fly to London via Perth or Singapore with Qantas. There would be no compelling reason for Melburnians to fly via Sydney. Also, what happens if a competitor airline decides to fly London-Melbourne direct in that five-year timeframe and steal all of the potential market?”
Meanwhile, the first Project Sunrise flight remains some years off, with the aircraft order not yet placed. However, judging from comments to the media, Qantas and Airbus appear keen to keep the plan on track.