Qantas is keen to go ahead with Project Sunrise, even if its pilots are not on board.

“It’s become clear that Sunrise is something that our international business needs to maximise its long-term success and defend its competitive position,” Qantas International chief executive Tino La Spina wrote in an internal memo sent on Thursday, according to media reports.

The carrier was deciding between Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 jets for the project’s ultra-long-haul flights. It eventually placed speculative orders for up to a dozen A350-1000s to serve seven Sunrise routes, and the airframer has agreed to extend the deadline for Qantas to confirm delivery slots from February to March.

La Spina says in the memo that Qantas will seek to negotiate directly with individual pilots or create a “new employment entity”, if it cannot come to an agreement with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), which represents Qantas pilots, before the 31 March deadline.

The employment entity refers to a lower-cost pilot group, likely to consist of about 400 pilots from other airlines and overseas, according to a report by The Australian that was reproduced on AIPA’s website.

The same report quotes AIPA president Mark Sedgwick as saying: “It shows how this business would apparently prefer ultimatums to building consensus at this critical juncture.”

He adds: “Project Sunrise involves multiple safety and regulatory issues that AIPA on behalf of pilots has been working through and will continue to do so in the interests of the travelling public.”

Cirium has reached out to Qantas for comment.

Project Sunrise is Qantas’ initiative to open nonstop services to the Australian east coast from New York and London from around 2022-23.

Between October and December 2019, the carrier completed three research flights on 787-9 aircraft to gather data on ultra-long-haul services.

The first, from New York to Sydney, was conducted in October, followed by London-Sydney in November, and New York-Sydney in December. These took 19 hours and 16 minutes, 19 hours and 19 minutes, and 19 hours and 31 minutes, respectively.