Qantas is moving forward with plans to launch more direct ultralong-haul flights from the United States and the United Kingdom to Australia

The project, dubbed Project Sunrise, is Qantas’ goal to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York. The Australian carrier said it wants to build on the success of existing long-haul services now that Australia's borders are open again and demand for travel is increasing.

Qantas already operates direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles and Dallas, but not to New York on the other side of the country. It also has a 17-hour nonstop service from London to Perth, and one to Darwin in the Northern Territory—but none to any cities on the east coast.

The view from the window of the non-stop Qantas flight from New York to Sydney
A view from a previous Qantas test flight as it travelled from New York to Sydney in 2019 © James D Morgan/Qantas

Now it's getting ready to take Project Sunrise off the ground and connect more international passengers after announcing on Monday that it ordered 12 Airbus A350-1000s for its flights. The airline says the planes will be "capable of flying direct from Australia to any other city" in the world.

The first service will launch at the end of 2025, crossing 15 time zones as Qantas connects Sydney directly with New York. 

The check-in desk for the Qantas non-stop flight from New York to Sydney
The check-in area for the record-breaking flight © James D Morgan/Qantas

What it's like onboard an ultralong-haul flight

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the cabin of the A350s "is being specially designed for maximum comfort in all classes for long-haul flying" and will feature "wellbeing zones" for passengers to move about in the cabin.

It follows an experiment in 2019, when Qantas conducted research flights to see how passengers would cope on an ultralong-haul flight between New York and Sydney. The Qantas flight spent a total of 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air, and 49 passengers and crew were on the flight, including four pilots.

A series of experiments took place to assess health and well-being onboard, ranging from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers. Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted in ways to reduce jetlag, according to the medical researchers and scientists who worked with Qantas on the project.

Although night flights usually start with dinner and then lights off, this flight started with lunch and the lights were kept on for the first six hours, to match the time of day at the destination and help reduce the jetlag straight away.

These tricks will be incorporated into the Project Sunrise flights when they launch.

“This is a really significant first for aviation," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said at the time, when the plane landed in Sydney after a 16,200km journey.

Woman's hand placed on spinning globe
Ultralong-haul flights are not very fuel-efficient according to climate experts © Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Ultralong-haul flights' impact on the climate emergency

Other airlines are also adding ultralong-haul flights to their operations including Air New Zealand, which will connect Auckland directly with New York in September. But the rise of these services are raising concerns about the impact they'll have on the environment.

Though Qantas claims the new planes will be 25% more fuel-efficient than previous aircraft and will bring about "major improvements in emissions", climate experts are skeptical, particularly when long-haul flights already generate the largest chunk of aviation emissions.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Tony Webber, a former chief economist at Qantas who now leads the Airline Intelligence Research group, said these flights will require a significant amount of fuel to stay in the air for such a long period of time.

“It’s true that reducing four movements—a take off and landing for each leg—means less fuel is burned, but for a plane to stay in the air for 20 hours without refueling means they are carrying an enormous amount of fuel.

“That extra fuel is extra weight, which in turn means you’ve got to burn more fuel overall to carry it. It’s a real inefficiency compared with flights that can carry less and refuel at a stop over,” Webber told the newspaper.

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This article was first published October 2019 and updated May 2022

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