UK flag carrier British Airways set a new record for the longest non-stop commercial flight late last month, when it flew 17,157km (9,274nm) from Brussels international airport to Melbourne.
One of the airline's Boeing 777-200s (similar to the one pictured below) was chartered by UK prime minister Tony Blair and his entourage to fly to attend the Commonwealth Games, a multi-sports event for former UK colonies, held in Australia's second city. The prime minister had been in Brussels for a European Union heads of government before embarking on the flight, which had been requested months ago as non-stop in order to make the closing ceremony of the games.
Max Kingsley-Jones / Flight International
The flight, captained by Capt Rod Mitchell, took 18h 45min to reach Melbourne, during which three hot meals were served. It has not been released how many passengers were onboard the 305-seat aircraft, although the prime minister usually travels with around 40 members of entourage and is followed by a further 20 journalists. To comply with crew flight time limitations, 20 crew were onboard, of which two were captains, two were senior first officers and 12 were cabin crew. An engineer, a security manager and a catering manager were also part of the personnel.
In June last year Boeing flew the 777-200LR variant 21,601km in 22h 42mins without refuelling from Hong Kong to London, setting a new record for a commercial airliner. However the 24 March London to Melbourne flight is the longest flight with paying passengers under civil transport rules.
Boeing is keen to promote the -200LR as a hub-buster, and Australian carrier Qantas told Flight International in July that it had been assured by the US airframer that the "Holy Grail" of non-stop flights from Australian east coast cities to London without fuel stops with an “economic payload” would be feasible with the -200LR.
Boeing is understood to be studying a 18,500km variant involving six auxilliary fuel tanks.
The still air distance from Sydney to London Heathrow is 17,000km but allowances for headwinds and minimum fuel reserves require a range of 17,600km. The official range of the -200LR is currently 17,400km, based on 301 passengers with three auxiliary fuel tanks.
Following meetings in Canberra, the aircraft carried Blair's retinue on to Wellington, New Zealand and Jakarta, Indonesia where Blair held further talks before returning to London.JUSTIN WASTNAGE / LONDON