Australian flag carrier renews interest in Boeing airliner’s potential for achieving non-stop ultra-long-haul flights

Australia’s Qantas Airways is showing renewed interest in the Boeing 777-200LR as the US manufacturer edges closer to offering an “economic payload” on potential ultra-long-haul services from Sydney.

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said at the UK Aviation Club in London last week: “While we ordered the [Airbus] A380, we’re also looking very seriously at the 777LR, and, if Boeing gets its maths right, it could be what we call our ‘hub-buster’ strategy.”

Dixon says that, although the A380 is required to boost capacity at slot-constrained airports, non-stop flights from Sydney to London remain the “holy grail”, enabling it to avoid stopping in hubs such as Singapore or Bangkok. He says Boeing is “now not too far from getting an economic payload into London”.

The still-air distance from Sydney to London Heathrow is 17,000km (9,190nm), but allowances for headwinds and minimum fuel reserves require a range of 17,600km. At a stop on the 777-200LR’s world tour at London Gatwick last week, Boeing officials said the aircraft’s official range had been extended to 17,400km, or about 19h based on 301 passengers and with three auxiliary tanks. Brad Till, regional director product marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, says 500h of testing has shown its range is “a few hundred nautical miles more than expected”.

Boeing saw similar gains with the 777-300ER, which was originally expected to fly 13,300km, but achieved 14,700km due to an increased take-off weight, better-than-expected fuel consumption in cruise and a package of drag- reduction, engine-performance and weight-reduction enhancements (Flight International, 25 January–1 February).

But Till warns: “We’re still a little bit short of Sydney to London, even with this aircraft.” He says the route is one of a few specific customer demands that are “beyond the reasonable”.

Qantas is also interested in using the aircraft for direct services to New York Kennedy airport – a flying distance of 16,000km from Sydney, says Dixon.

He says the -200LR must be able to operate to London without a payload penalty: “For us it’s not a trade-off of passengers for range. We are an airline that needs to make money – we don’t do loss-leading flights.”

Boeing says it will attempt a record-breaking 24h flight with the -200LR in September.

Justin Wastnage / London

Additional reporting by Victoria Moores

Source: Flight International