Qantas Commits to New Airbus Fleet Order for Project Sunrise, Boeing 737 Replacement

Qantas confirmed its new Airbus fleet order on May 2, noting that a combined 40 new A220 and A321XLR aircraft will replace some of the aging 737s and 717s currently being operated on domestic routes. (Photo, courtesy of Airbus)

Qantas has confirmed a new order with Airbus that will introduce 12 A350-1000 Project Sunrise aircraft into its fleet, along with 40 new A220-300s and A321XLRs that will replace aging 737 and 717 aircraft currently being operated by the Australian airline.

The A350s will be capable of flying nonstop routes from Australia to any other city, including New York and London, and are the result of a research initiative Qantas participated in for several years evaluating the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A350-1000 to operate what will become the longest nonstop routes ever operated by Qantas. Some of the primary routes Qantas evaluated the A350-1000 on include Brisbane to Paris, Melbourne to New York, and Sydney to London.

On the domestic side of its operations, a combined 95 total Boeing 737 and 717 aircraft will be retired and replaced by the incoming orders for the new A321XLRs and A220-300s, which Airbus will start to deliver late next year.

Qantas has included purchase right options for another 94 aircraft that are scheduled for delivery through at least 2034. Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce compared the introduction of Project Sunrise to how the Boeing 707 “introduced the jet age, the 747 democratised travel,” in statements published by Qantas.

“The A350 and Project Sunrise will make any city just one flight away from Australia. It’s the last frontier and the final fix for the tyranny of distance. As you’d expect, the cabin is being specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying,” Joyce said.

The A350-1000s on order for Qantas will be powered by the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, and will require an additional fuel tank along with a slightly increased maximum takeoff weight to fly the Sunrise routes.

Joyce’s vision for Project Sunrise was effectively put on hold by the pandemic, after the CEO said in December 2019 that the carrier would ultimately make a decision on an order for the A350-1000  in March 2020. Two years later, Qantas included the Project Sunrise aircraft in the new fleet order that restructures an existing order agreement with Airbus of 109 A320s (plus purchase rights) for Qantas Group regional subsidiary Jetstar. That order will now be combined into “a single Qantas Group narrow body order of 299 aircraft (half of which are firm orders and half are purchase right options), with the flexibility to draw down on that order by choosing any variant from the A320 and A220 families,” according to details on the order released by Qantas.

“We have come through the other side of the pandemic a structurally different company. Our domestic market share is higher and the demand for direct international flights is even stronger than it was before COVID. The business case for Project Sunrise has an internal rate of return in the mid-teens,” Joyce said.

A release of its third-quarter fiscal year 2022 results showed an increase in passenger demand for Qantas, including increased “bookings for markets including London, Los Angeles, South Africa and Bali all above pre-COVID pandemic levels.”

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