Qantas long flights
Credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

This story was first published on August 25, 2017.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce made some big announcements this week, the most dramatic of which was a challenge to Airbus and Boeing to develop planes that can fly significantly longer distances than any planes in the air today.

Joyce said he would like to offer customers direct flights between Sydney and London (10,553 miles), Brisbane and Paris (10,287 miles) as well as between Melbourne and New York City (10,353 miles).

For some perspective on just how far this is, United just announced that it will re-launch service between Los Angeles and Singapore, which is 8,700 miles and about 18 hours.

Other record holders include Doha to Los Angeles at 8,306 miles and over 16 hours, Dubai to Los Angeles at 8,339 miles, Sydney to Dallas at 8,578 miles, and Dubai to Auckland 8,824 miles. The Doha to Auckland service launched this year by Qatar Airways is 9,032 miles.

Singapore Airlines has considered re-launching its record-holding 9,534-mile, 19-hour journey between Singapore and New York City, which the airline cancelled in 2013 when fuel costs made the route unprofitable. The airline plans to do this with an ultra-long range version of the Airbus A350 which is expected to only have two cabin classes.

Joyce is convinced that both Airbus and Boeing have what it takes to stretch the miles further with future A350 Ultra Long Range aircraft and the long-awaited 777X, which is still under development. He's giving Airbus and Boeing until 2022 to deliver.

“I have written to the CEOs of Boeing and Airbus to extend the challenge to them. Both manufacturers are developing aircraft that can almost do the job,” he said. “We believe advances in the next few years will close the gap, and Qantas has the unique operational experience to be the airline that helps make it happen.”

Joyce feels the work necessary to accomplish longer flights is worth it to help passengers save time and avoid the potential complications of connecting flights — and he feels that pushing the envelope of long-haul flying fits nicely in Qantas’ corporate legacy.

“Throughout our almost-100 year history, new frontiers have always been pivotal to Qantas’ success – and, in some part, to Australia’s success. We went from outback mail runs in the 1920s, to now carrying 50 million people a year. From a small domestic network, to flying to every continent. From stopping seven times on the way to London in 1947 to stopping just once by the 1990s. From next year, we’ll be flying direct from Perth to London. So the time is right to set ourselves a new challenge. To chase a new frontier,” Joyce said in a speech accompanying his report on 2017 full year results. “This is a last frontier in global aviation. The antidote to the tyranny of distance. And a revolution for air travel in Australia.”

“This is the kind of pioneering spirit that the national carrier is built on,” he added. “And it’s the kind of spirit that we want to take us forward.”

Besides the pioneering revolutions he'd like to see, Joyce revealed that Qantas is shifting to offer passengers more comfort now, with a greater focus on premium seating. The airline’s Airbus A380 planes will get a major cabin upgrade starting in 2019 with fewer and better Economy class seats onboard.

Qantas long flights
Credit: Courtesy of Qantas

“In business class, we’ll install the latest version of our business suites – the ones called ‘mini First Class’ by our frequent fliers,” Joyce said. “We’ll increase the size of the Premium Economy cabin and fit our all-new seat for this class — the same one that will debut on the Dreamliner later this year.”

“We’re completely refurbishing First Class to make the seats more comfortable and installing bigger entertainment screens. Economy will be upgraded with better cushions and improved inflight entertainment. And we’re overhauling the lounge space at the front of the upper deck, reconfiguring this part of the aircraft to create more room for customers to relax.”

If this new design approach hints at what Qantas will do with the future ultra-ultra long haul planes, then they could be a more attractive option than even flying around the world at supersonic speed.