A non-stop London to Sydney flight is planned by Qantas next month as the airline evaluates the viability of ultra long-haul operations.
The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner service is one of a series of research flights being run to gather new data about in-flight passenger and crew health and wellbeing.
It will follow the first non-stop commercial airline flight from New York to Sydney which took 19 hours 16 minutes.
The flights form part of planning for ‘Project Sunrise’, the carrier’s plan to operate regular, non-stop flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York. A decision on Project Sunrise is expected by the end of the year.
A total of 49 passengers and crew were on board to flight from New York to run experiments to be used to help shape the crew rostering and customer service of Qantas’ ultra long haul flights in future.
Tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers.
Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted in ways that are expected to help reduce jetlag.
The airline is using new Boeing 787-9s and re-route their planned delivery flights.
Instead of flying empty from Seattle to Australia, the aircraft will simulate routes from London and New York to Sydney.
Arriving in Sydney from New York, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “This is a really significant first for aviation. Hopefully, it’s a preview of a regular service that will speed up how people travel from one side of the globe to the other.
“We know ultra long-haul flights pose some extra challenges but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly further. The research we’re doing should give us better strategies for improving comfort and wellbeing along the way.
“Night flights usually start with dinner and then lights off. For this flight, we started with lunch and kept the lights on for the first six hours, to match the time of day at our destination. It means you start reducing the jetlag straight away.
“What’s already clear is how much time you can save. Our regular, one-stop New York to Sydney service (QF12) took off three hours before our direct flight but we arrived a few minutes ahead of it, meaning we saved a significant amount of total travel time by not having to stop.”
Captain Sean Golding, who led the four pilots operating the service, said: “The flight went really smoothly. Headwinds picked up overnight, which slowed us down to start with, but that was part of our scenario planning. Given how long we were airborne, we were able to keep optimising the flight path to make the best of the conditions.
“We had a lot of interest from air traffic controllers as we crossed through different airspace because of the uniqueness of this flight. We also had a special sign off and welcome home from the control towers in New York and Sydney, which you don’t get every day.
“Overall, we’re really happy with how the flight went and it’s great have some of the data we need to help assess turning this into a regular service.”
Two more research flights are planned as part of the Project Sunrise evaluations – London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December. Emissions from all research flights will be fully offset.
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