Twenty hours on a Qantas plane: is this the future of aviation or a new hell in the economy?

From the end of 2025, Qantas hopes to run the first of its “Project Sunrise” flights – up to 20 hours non-stop from Australia’s east coast to Europe and the US east coast.

Australia’s national carrier has touted the flights as “the final frontier of aviation”, but health and industry experts raise concerns for the passenger experience and question whether eliminating stopovers will ultimately lead to an increase in aircraft emissions.

Qantas first announced its vision to run ultra long-haul routes in 2017, but COVID pushed back a predicted 2022 launch. With global aviation now booming again due to the pandemic’s appetite for travel, Project Sunrise is firmly back on the agenda.

The airline already runs non-stop flights from Perth to London and Rome, which have proved popular despite costing more than traditional services stopping in Asia.

Qantas operates Boeing 787s from Perth to Europe, and has used that aircraft for a test flight on the Sydney-London route, but says Project Sunrise will rely on the superior fuel efficiency of Airbus’s A350-1000.

The airline has ordered 12 of them to be fitted with 232 seats – far fewer than the typical configuration of 300 to 350 seats – so that the planes can carry the extra fuel needed to travel the nearly 18,000 km without stopping.

With fewer potential customers per flight, Qantas will lean into the high-end market with 40% of cabins being “premium seating”.

Each aircraft will have six first class suites, 52 business suites, 40 premium economy seats and 140 standard economy seats in the rear.

So far, the airline has not revealed much about the front end of the aircraft. Each suite in first class will have a 2-metre bed, individual wardrobe and 32-inch television, making it 50% larger than suites on its existing A380s. Business class will have generous legroom and a privacy wall.

Little is promised for economy passengers beyond a 33-inch seat pitch, 2-3 inches above the airline’s standard. Passengers of all classes will be able to access a snack station and a “wellness area”. The zone, a “space dedicated to movement”, appears similar in size to most of the cabin aisles.

Carbs and calisthenics

Qantas has engaged scientists from the University of Sydney to study the health effects of what will become the world’s longest flights and reduce the body clock effects of the prospect of seeing the sun rise twice on a single journey.

On a test flight from Sydney to London in 2019, a carbohydrate-rich meal was prepared to induce rapid sleep while passengers were served a spicy soup when they would be awake at their destination.

A mid-air calisthenics class was also held, with the chief executive of Qantas, Alan Joyce, dancing the Macarena in the aisles of the economy cabin (which had no passengers).

An artist’s mockup of the Qantas Airbus A350-1000 aircraft that will be used for ultra long-haul flights, with the center labeled ‘Wellbeing Zone’. Photograph: Qantas

Tony Schirmer, a doctor specializing in aerospace medicine who has worked with the Australian Air Force and Navy, says ultra-long flights will slightly increase the risk of common inflight concerns such as deep vein thrombosis.

Schirmer says the risk of blood clots increases after a flight reaches four hours and increases with each additional hour.

He says there is little evidence to support “economy class syndrome” – the idea that those crammed into smaller seats are at greater risk.

“You will most certainly be uncomfortable, but I don’t see any reason why this would cause any long-term problems,” he says.

Schirmer questions whether the relief zones will be sufficient for those trapped in economy seats. He points to the bunk bed-style sleeping pods Air New Zealand is set to offer economy passengers in four-hour slots as a better initiative.

“It’s a good idea, because getting more sleep is invaluable.”

Schirmer, who also works as a commercial pilot, believes most of the risks associated with 20-hour-long flights, except for significantly older passengers and those with chronic illnesses, may be psychological.

“There’s not a lot of evidence to say that flying actively dehydrates you, but it’s more about human behavior … People will say they don’t want to get up and pee, so they prefer to drink less.” are, and dehydration is a risk factor for the development of blood clots.”

Skip past newsletter promotion

Those who limit their water intake will also feel the effects of alcohol more.

“It would also be easy to feel a little too intoxicated, as there is less oxygen in the cabin at higher altitudes, so it will be important that passengers do not overdo it.

“When someone is on vacation, if they’re uncomfortable because of physical space limitation, some will hit more alcohol, and they’ll be in that environment longer on these flights,” Schirmer says.

‘A compromise between fuel and fewer seats’

Qantas claims the A350 uses 20% less fuel and emits 25% less carbon dioxide per seat than other aircraft of its size, but critics question whether non-stop flights are less environmentally friendly. Will be harmful.

On the one hand, it saves fuel by avoiding at least one take-off – the most energy intensive part of a flight. But carrying far fewer passengers significantly reduces the per-passenger emissions footprint.

Emissions figures for the Project Sunrise flights have not been released, but the International Civil Aviation Organization has calculated that non-stop flights from Dubai to Auckland – approximately 14,000 km – produce an average of 876 kg of C02 per economy passenger. With a stopover in Singapore, the average emissions per economy passenger were 772 kg. Emissions are significantly higher for premium class passengers.

Qantas is betting that the time saved by flying non-stop will appeal to business customers – it estimates the non-stop service will cut the London-Sydney journey to between 19 and 20 hours, compared with more than 23 hours. Singapore.

The airline says Project Sunrise flight times will be between 18 and 20 hours depending on the direction, and is yet to release details on airfares. It didn’t answer a question about emissions.

Zeina Asad, a senior research fellow at the Australian National University whose PhD was on long-haul flight efficiency, expects ultra-long-haul flights to become more popular, and says it could help improve congestion at major airports. will gain help in.

But she predicts that Qantas may need to move away from its luxurious cabin configurations in order to better compete on price.

“Perhaps the approach of more space may be good for customers in the beginning, but if 20-hour flights become the norm, I don’t know how effective it will be,” she says.

Qantas has yet to release its pricing structure for the flights, but says fares will be around 30% higher than on its traditional routes.

Prof Rico Merkert, deputy director of the University of Sydney’s Institute for Transport and Logistics, believes that flights targeting business travelers can be profitable, and that more spacious interiors driven by fuel requirements are ultimately a positive.

“Making travel faster is something business types are prepared to spend on, but even thinking in economy, as a tall person, if you sit there as tight as a sardine So it becomes painful. I believe people will not come back for that.

“It’s this synergy between fuel and fewer seats that makes flights less efficient, but it’s better than running a flight that nobody wants – it’s the most inefficient use of fuel.”

Rate this post

Leave a Comment