Qantas is poised to buy up to 12 modified Airbus aircraft for its proposal to begin non-stop flights connecting Sydney with London and New York.
The Australian airline said on Friday it would make a final decision on the proposal for the new routes, dubbed “Operation Sunrise”, in March.
It has conducted two research flights – more than 19 hours long – from New York and London to Sydney in recent weeks and will carry out a second New York-Sydney flight next Tuesday.
In selecting the most suitable aircraft for the routes, Qantas said it had considered the Boeing 777X but had opted for the Airbus A350-1000 “as the preferred aircraft if Sunrrise proceeds”.
Citing the “strong reliability record” of the Airbus’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, Qantas said it was in negotiations with the French manufacturer to buy up to 12 aircraft built with an additional fuel tank, and a slightly increased maximum takeoff weight.
“Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.
“The aircraft and engine combination is next generation technology but it’s thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.”
Mr Joyce said more details relating to the flights were still to be settled, including confirming a business plan which would ensure the routes were financially viable, and agreeing contractual terms for pilots, who would be paid more to fly the two longest passenger routes in the world.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots,” Mr Joyce said.
“We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs.
“Airbus has given us an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting our planned start date, which means we can spend more time on hopefully reaching a deal with our pilots.”