Qantas aims to decide if it will proceed with its plans to launch new ultra-long-haul flights under its Project Sunrise by the end of the year.
Chief executive Alan Joyce says that the airline is in detailed evaluation of final offers from Airbus and Boeing for an aircraft that can fly non-stop from Australia's east coast, to Europe and the US east coast.
"We know that Boeing and Airbus now have an aircraft that can do the job, and we have had senior management teams of both organisations here in Sydney to present their best and final offers - including a compelling offer by Boeing to deal with any delay that may be associated with the 777X."
Boeing has paused development of the 777-8, which is the aircraft it is pitching to Qantas to meet the Sunrise requirement, in part to deal with engine issues that have pushed the first flight of the -9 variant from this year to next.
Airbus, meanwhile, is believed to have put forward a proposed ultra-long-range variant of the A350-1000.
Qantas has indicated that it plans to place an order for the aircraft this year, with deliveries expected in late 2022 and Sunrise routes to launch in 2023.
However, Joyce says that the business case has other hurdles to clear, including regulatory approval to adjust crew operating limits, as well as unspecified "productivity improvements" from its pilot body.
"There is plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but I have to say it is not a foregone conclusion. This is ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up, and if they don't, we won't do it."
Nonetheless, Qantas has announced that it will operate three "research flights" over the coming months using three Boeing 787-9s on delivery flights.
Those aircraft will operate nonstop flights from London and New York to Sydney with around 40 passengers and crew onboard, and will be used to gather data on inflight passenger and crew health and well-being.
“No airline has done this kind of dedicated research before and we’ll be using the results to help shape the cabin design, inflight service and crew roster patterns for Project Sunrise. We’ll also be looking at how we can use it to improve our existing long-haul flights,” says Joyce.