Qantas expects to choose in 2019 between the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X for the aircraft to meet its requirement to introduce nonstop flights between eastern Australia and London by 2022.
While the Boeing efforts to meet the requirement are focused on the smaller 777-8 variant of the 777X, Airbus is still evaluating whether to adopt the A350-900 as the platform or whether it needs to revisit a shorter “-800” variant to achieve the required payload/range performance.
Earlier this year, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce challenged Airbus and Boeing to develop airliners capable of operating the Europe-eastern Australia kangaroo route nonstop. He specifically wants to introduce nonstop flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne by 2022. This will follow the launch of direct flights between Perth and London using Boeing 787-9s, from next March.
Qantas technical teams are now in discussions with Airbus and Boeing about its requirement, Joyce told FlightGlobal at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
“All the way through 2018 we’re doing the technical evaluation,” says Joyce. “The intention is that by the end of 2018 we’ll have that sorted and if then if we believe both aircraft can do it with whatever modifications are needed, we’ll do a competition in 2019.”
He adds: “Both Airbus and Boeing are protecting slots for us, so we could get it in 2022-23.”
Joyce is unsure if Boeing will have to modify the 777-8 to achieve the performance, but adds that Airbus is “saying they may” consider a shorter-fuselage A350 variant if the standard A350-900 cannot meet mission requirements. A once-planned ultra-long-range “shrink”, the A350-800, has been in limbo for several years while Airbus focused on introducing the baseline -900 and -1000 stretch versions.
Joyce is reluctant to reveal the size of the potential order, saying only that any deal would likely be phased like its commitment to the Boeing 787. “It’s very important to get those initial few, and then you would order more as you demonstrate to your shareholders that the market can make a go of them. Like the 787, we had eight firm but 45 purchase options and rights, and they come up next year for action.”
Joyce says the competition to meet the Qantas challenge has created some good old fashioned rivalry between the two OEMs: “One of the Airbus guys said: ‘This is like the space race’ – the first to get to the moon,” he says. “They really both want to do it.”
Qantas has been a major customer for both Airbus and Boeing widebodies, but has never ordered the A350 or the 777. It currently operates 28 A330s and recently began introducing the first of eight 787s it has on firm order. It also flies 12 A380s but has deferred its remaining eight orders for the Airbus superjumbo.