Project Sunrise Update: Airbus seems to be getting the upper hand over Boeing

One of the big contests in the aviation industry of late has been the contest for offering the longest flying routes. I’d like to imagine it is purely commercial and nothing to do with bragging rights, but we’ve seen some pretty impressive aircraft come on to the market in the recent years, which have made routes such as Singapore Airlines’ non-stop flights between Singapore and New York possible again, and Qantas’ new flights between Perth and London, which are some of the longest flights in the world.

a map of the world with red lines

In 2017, Qantas announced the Project Sunrise, which is their plan to fly non-stop from the East Coast of Australia, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, to places such as London and New York non-stop, which would be more than 9500 miles of range. They asked Boeing and Airbus to make them an aircraft which could do the range for these intended flights by 2022. Qantas has issued an RFP for these aircraft, which should be able to have at least 300 people fly together in a four-class configuration, to be delivered 2022 onwards. Karan wrote an excellent piece about the project a few months ago, and what could be Boeing and Airbus play with. Both Boeing and Airbus, as would be predictable, have made confidential proposals to Qantas. Qantas will decide by the end of the year.

In the meanwhile, there have been some interesting updates on both ends in the past week, so I thought of consolidating both in one go.

Airbus may launch the A350-1000ULR

It seems that Airbus is preparing to launch the A350-1000ULR this year. Airbus has claimed they have an aircraft that is capable of flying the range for Qantas since a few months now. Only this past week did new information emerge, which hints at Airbus being almost certain of launching the A350-1000 Ultra Long Range aircraft which will be able to serve the mission.

Airbus A350-1000

The A350-1000 is a very roomy plane, which is intended to match up with the 777, so if they are able to add the ultra long range, it would give the best of both worlds on a single aircraft. In a four class configuration, this would work wonders for Qantas, given the aircraft will be heavy with 400 passengers, and needs to fly about 10000 miles in one go. In our earlier writeup on the subject, we had mentioned how Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker had touched on the extended range of the aircraft,

The ordered -1000s will be a new high-gross-weight version that Airbus has in development. The new batch will be delivered in 2020-21.

Boeing postpones the development of the 777-8 variant.

Boeing on the other hand seems to have a lot on its hands with the developments on the 737MAX affecting the company as a whole. The entire Commercial Airplanes division is focussed on getting the 737MAX back in the air at the moment, as production continues and airframes pile up around Washington State in the hope of a return to service within the year. However, with the FAA making it clear just this past week that they are not looking at any timeline to follow on the 737MAX right now, that means the timeline could be Q4 2019 as Boeing expects at the moment or later.

two airplanes flying in the sky

The word from Seattle at the moment is that work on developing the 777-8 is frozen for now. The 777-8 is the ultra-long-range variant of the 777X family, and the airframe maker is currently grappling with delays on the 737 MAX programme, and getting the 777-9 to progress, given the have not received the test engines from GE at the moment, and the programme is delayed by a few months for now.
The 777-8, with a range of about 9980 miles as the crow flies, gives the aircraft the ability to fly between East Coast Australia and London. Boeing, however continues to emphasise that they have made a good compelling offer to Qantas, and they are still in the reckoning for the business of Qantas. Here is what the Boeing spokesperson had to say,

We reviewed our development program schedule and the needs of our current 777X customers and decided to adjust the schedule.

The adjustment reduces risk in our development program, ensuring a more seamless transition to the 777-8. We continue to engage with our current and potential customers on how we can meet their fleet needs. This includes our valued customer Qantas.


There is two ways this could play out. Airbus wins by default because Qantas is a stickler for the timeline it has proposed, and hence will not be able to accommodate the delays that Boeing has, or Boeing would have made such a compelling offer that it would mean Qantas rethink their timeline and move it forward to accommodate Boeing in the process. Either ways, it will be a nailbiting finish to the end.

What do you make out of who wins this contest between Boeing and Airbus for the Project Sunrise?

About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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