TBT — Qantas Connections Europe and Australia Together with the longest Jump

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To mark the one-year anniversary of Qantas starting flights between Perth and London Heathrow on March 24 2018 – linking the continents of Australia and Europe with regularly scheduled nonstop service for the first time – this week’ s Throwback Thursday feature is Gerard Frawley’ s story on the historic day.

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND operating the inaugural QF9 between Perth and London Heathrow. (Victor Pody)

When Qantas Flight 9 touched down in London at the end of its historic nonstop flight from Perth a little after 5am local time on Sunday March 25, the remarkable {had been|have been|was} made to seem routine.

For the first time, Australia {and the|as well as the|plus the} UK were  linked {by a|with a|by way of a} direct nonstop air service. For the 229 passengers and crew on board Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND the experience was {of a|of the|of any} smooth, seamless service, but that belied the many {years of|many years of|a lot of} planning and preparation Qantas had conducted.

“ When we started the Kangaroo route in 1947, the flight took four days and seven stops. Every decade, as we got new aircraft we improved on that, we got faster, we got more comfortable, we got cheaper, ” Qantas Group {chief executive|leader} Alan Joyce said onboard QF9 shortly before its landing into London.

“ Today we’ re on this amazing historic flight, which is the fastest flight that has ever occurred between Australia and the UK. ”

Qantas staff farewell the inaugural QF10 London-Perth departure. (Qantas)

Qantas staff farewell the inaugural QF10 London-Perth departure. (Qantas)

The first incarnation {of the|from the|in the} Kangaroo Route that linked Sydney with London was operated by a Lockheed Constellation that carried 29 passengers and involved seven stops over four days of travel. A ticket cost £ 525 – or about $35, 000 in today’ s money.

Today, the Perth-London Heathrow flight is scheduled {to cover|to protect|to hide} the 7, 829nm journey in 17 hours and 20 minutes. A return ticket is priced from {as low as|as little as|just} $1, 300.

“ It is a historic day for Western Australia, a historic day for aviation, a historic day for Qantas, ” Joyce told media inside Qantas’ s new international transit lounge at Perth Airport’ s Terminal 3 prior to QF9’ s departure.

“ From today {it will be|it can be|it will probably be} the first nonstop link between Australia and Europe {that has|which has|which includes} ever occurred in aviation. We’ re so excited. ”

[embedded content]
VIDEO: A look at Qantas’ s inaugural flight from Perth to London Heathrow from Ahron Young’ s YouTube channel .

The new nonstop link between Perth and London {is now|is currently|has become} the longest regularly scheduled flight operated by the Boeing 787, and the world’ s second longest airline service (behind Qatar Airways’ Auckland-Doha flights ).

{As such|Therefore|As a result} it is a flight that stretches the operational capabilities {of the|from the|in the} 787 to its limits, made possible by careful configuration of the aircraft and detailed flightplanning.

“ We’ ve got {some very|very} smart people in our organisation who have managed to find the sweet spot between weight, the passenger numbers, and the business class, premium economy and economy class configuration {and the|as well as the|plus the} range with our engines, ” Captain Lisa Norman, Qantas 787 project pilot {and one|and something|and another} of the four Qantas pilots operating the flight, told  Australian Aviation   onboard QF9.

“ Just because {you have a|there is a|you do have a} 787 doesn’ t {necessarily mean|indicate|necessarily indicate} you can do [this mission], {a lot of|lots of|plenty of} operators have put in {much more|a lot more|far more} denser passenger configs. ”

The flight crew of QF9 – pose for photographs at London Heathrow's Terminal 3. (Gerard Frawley)

The flight crew of QF9 – pose for photographs at London Heathrow’ s Terminal 3. (Gerard Frawley)

The result was one of the lowest seat counts yet specified for a Boeing 787-9 , with 236 seats – in comparison, Qantas’ s low-cost carrier subsidiary Jetstar operates the smaller 787-8 seating 335 passengers. {That means|Which means|This means} the 787-9 can operate Perth-London with a full, or near full passenger load with full fuel tanks.

“ We’ ve been doing flightplans [for QF9 and the return QF10] {for about|for approximately|for around} 18 months now, ” Captain Norman said of the planning behind the new ultra long-haul mission.

“ We’ ve got {a really|a very|an extremely} robust ‘ plan for tomorrow today’ process, where we start looking at the flight 72 hours out, QMet (Qantas meteorology) starts giving us weather advice, so they’ ll say, for example , {there is a|there exists a|you will find a} high, medium or low risk of fog in London, {and we|and|and that we} start making some provisions just in case that event presents on the day of operation. ”

And operating the 787 on the Melbourne-Los Angeles route prior to commencing Perth-London was also “ invaluable” in validating the aircraft’ s performance and refining flight planning assumptions.

“ That enables us then to refine planning for this flight, ” Captain Norman said.

“ We’ ve seen the behaviour of all four [787] aircraft [delivered to date] now. ”

The QF9 cabin crew poses for photos prior to departure. (Victor Pody)

The QF9 cabin crew poses for photos {prior to|just before|ahead of} departure. (Victor Pody)

Captains Lisa Norman and Jeff Foote ahead of QF9’s departure to London. (Victor Pody)

Captains Lisa Norman and Jeff Foote ahead of QF9’ s departure to London. (Victor  Pody)

For the first {two weeks|a couple weeks|fourteen days} of operations, Qantas was taking a conservative approach to the 787‑ 9’ s payload by “ blocking off” (ie not selling) {up to|as much as|around} 20 passenger seats {to give the|to have the|to achieve the} aircraft a comfortable margin {to ensure|to make sure|to make certain} it can reach London {without a|with no|with out a} tech stop diversion (prevailing winds mean the London-Perth sector faces fewer operational restrictions).

{On an|With an|By using an} ongoing basis, and as with Qantas’ s Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney Airbus A380 flights (which can also take more than 17 hours if the headwinds are bad), Qantas will also actively manage loads to ensure the 787-9 has the payload range performance to operate the route nonstop.

Other factors too have played an important role in enabling the ultra long-haul flights – Boeing has delivered more than 600 787s now and so Qantas {has been|continues to be|have been} able to benefit from incremental performance improvements to the aircraft {and to|and also to|also to} its GE Aviation GEnx engines.

Qantas has also commissioned lightweight cutlery, crockery and service carts, while flying over the Indian Ocean the aircraft {can take|may take|will take} advantage of “ user preferred routes”, where the flightcrew can plan the most optimal flightpath taking into account winds without being constrained by traditional waypoints and airways. Also, over the Indian Ocean the aircraft can climb in increments {of 1|of just one}, 000ft, rather than 2, 000ft, making for a more efficient climb to altitude.

“ It has been such a synergy of people’ s efforts to help us to get to {this point|this time}, ” Captain Norman reflected.

“ {I think|I believe|I do believe} the significance is not lost on anyone. I don’ t know what other frontier {you could|you can|you might} do after this one now. ”

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND, operating the inaugural QF9 from Perth, taxis to the gate at London Heathrow. (Qantas)

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND, operating the inaugural QF9 from Perth, taxis to the gate at London Heathrow. (Qantas)

Certainly the Perth-London Heathrow route represents something of a beachhead for Qantas, with the success of the flight potentially spawning new nonstop services from Perth – Qantas’ s new western hub – to other points on the European continent, {such as|like|for example} Paris.

{While the|As the|Even though the} economics of such an ultra long-haul flight are challenging, Alan Joyce said {ahead of the|in front of the|prior to the} inaugural Perth-London flight’ s departure that the response to {the new|the brand new|the newest} route has been outstanding.

He said forward bookings showed 60 {per cent|%|percent} of the traffic on the flight was origin and destination traffic between London to Perth, with 40 {per cent|%|percent} connecting onwards in Perth to the rest of the Qantas network.

“ That’ s important for the economics [of the route], ” Joyce said.

Some 30 per cent of seats on the 787-9 are in business or premium economy, {the highest|the greatest|the best} percentage of any of aircraft type in the Qantas fleet, with 42 seats {in business|running a business|in operation} class in a 1-2-1 configuration offering direct aisle access for every passenger, 28 in premium economy laid out 2-3-2 across and 166 in economy in a 3-3-3 layout with 32in seat pitch.

Such a configuration reflects both the business-heavy nature of the routes the airline will operate the aircraft on, but it is also optimised to provide the payload range performance necessary for ultra long-haul routes like Perth-London.

And it would appear that premium mix is matching the demand for seats {at the|in the|on the} pointy end.

“ It has more business class and premium economy seats than we’ ve ever put on an aircraft and we are filling them, ” Joyce said.

“ The forward bookings in those are over 90 per cent {and are|and they are|and therefore are} very strong, so the economics {of this|of the|with this} route is looking very strong from day one.

“ In fact , we think we will {make money from|earn money from|make money using} the first day, which I have not actually seen in a new international route for a long time. So the economics {are starting|start} out immensely strong. ”

Also strengthening Qantas’ s economics {on the|around the|within the} Kangaroo route is that the QF9/QF10 rotation begins and terminates in Melbourne (for {all the|all of the|each of the} hype over the nonstop Perth-London leg), and it has replaced the previous QF9/10 flights between Melbourne and London via Dubai which were operated by Airbus A380s.

Qantas’ s A380s seat 484 passengers, compared to just 236 passengers in the 787-9, so some 248 seats per flight have been removed from {the market|the marketplace|the market industry} each day.

Further, on the same weekend Melbourne-Perth-London flights launched, Qantas switched its hub for its QF1/QF2 Sydney-London flights from Dubai to Singapore, and placed the A380 on the Melbourne-Singapore route, with those flights timed to connect with QF1 and QF2 in Singapore.

That shift gives Qantas’ s Melbourne passengers two options for travelling to London, means the airline {can continue to|can certainly still|could} offer a first class product {on the route|on the way}, plus helps the economics of the Singapore-London legs of QF1/2 as well.

Switching hubs and introducing the 787-9 onto the Australia-London route is the culmination of Qantas’ s most complex aircraft entry into service program since the Airbus A380 joined the fleet in 2008 , Phil Capps, head of customer product and service development, told  Australian Aviation {ahead of the|in front of the|prior to the} inaugural QF9 departure from Perth.

“ This has been the biggest change {for us|for all of us|for people} since the introduction of the Airbus A380 in the 2000s. {Because it is|Since it is} about introducing and designing an entire [new] aircraft but also all the other parts that aircraft {interacts with|treats}. It’ s been {a huge|an enormous|a massive} experience, we’ ve had accelerated timeframes to deliver this, ” he said.

“ But {I think|I believe|I do believe} Qantas works very well {when we|whenever we|once we} have very clear strategies and know what to deliver. ”

The 787-9, Capps said, was delivering {a new|a brand new|a fresh} benchmark for customer satisfaction.

“ We’ re extremely happy with the way customers are responding to the aircraft, ” Capps said.

“ Particular elements from the cabin environment, the seating and the comfort [levels] but also the inflight entertainment are resonating very strongly with customers.

“ {When we|Whenever we|Once we} compare the experience of customers {who are|that are|who will be} flying so far on Melbourne-Los Angeles – and soon to be Perth-London – {there is a|there exists a|you will find a} material increase, it is effectively a new benchmark of customer advocacy and satisfaction. ”

That bodes well for the forthcoming cabin upgrade of the airline’ s A380s, Capps said.

A file image of a Qantas Boeing 787-9.

{A file|Folders|Data} image of a Qantas Boeing 787-9.

“ We’ ve recently announced the reconfiguration {of the|from the|in the} A380, there will be many {elements of|aspects of|components of} that which will be aligned {with the|using the|with all the} Dreamliner so it means that {we know that|we can say that} we’ ve done {things that are|stuff that are|items that are} working well with customers and now we are going to continue to roll those out across the {rest of the|remaining|remaining portion of the} international fleet. ”

Early experience with the 787 has also validated Qantas’ s approach of collaborating with industry partners in designing and delivering its 787 passenger experience.

“ I think {what works|what realy works} for us is the collaboration {of the best|of the greatest|of the finest} minds in the business. We {like to|prefer to|want to} use our own experience {but then|however|but} work with Neil Perry {who knows|to know} food, beverage and service like no other, like Sofitel, who also knows service like no other, and with the [University of Sydney]  Charles Perkins centre, ” he said.

Qantas engaged experts from the University of Sydney’ s Charles Perkins Centre , industrial designer David Caon {and its|as well as|as well as its} own consulting chef Neil Perry to introduce {a number of|numerous|several} cabin and lounge  features designed to help cope with {the effects of|the consequence of|the consequences of} jetlag.

“ Our job then {is to|would be to|is always to} continue to pull all those threads together and weave them into an experience, ” Capps said.

“ The more you can collaborate {with the best|with a really good} in the field, the better the experience {will be|is going to be|will probably be}. So that’ s {really the|truly the|the} biggest lesson we’ ve learned. ”

Part of that experience is the new Qantas transit lounge at Perth Airport.

Capps said Qantas’ s experience in operating from Terminal 3 – it moved its Jetstar and QantasLink services there when Virgin Australia vacated {the space|the area|the room} to relocate to its new terminal across the airfield adjacent to the international terminal in November 2015 – meant it had a good {understanding of|knowledge of|comprehension of} the spaces that were {available in|obtainable in|accessible in} the terminal to build {a new|a brand new|a fresh} lounge in.

“ With that in mind when we started working with the airport we understood that there was the {potential for|possibility of|prospect of} an unused space {at this|with this|only at that} level that was adjacent to {what could|might} be an outdoor area. {So as|In order|To be able} soon as we identified {that we|that people|that individuals} really worked very hard to lock it in.

“ We wanted {one of the first|main|major} impressions to be one of {natural light|sun light}, fresh air and space. The ceiling design starts to rake up as you start to get {towards the|towards|for the} outdoor area, the fact that this is a completely glass wall is designed to {give you|provide you with|offer you} an immediate relaxing and refreshing introduction to the lounge space. ”

The outdoor terrace area of Qantas’s new Perth transit lounge. (Gerard Frawley)

The outdoor terrace area of Qantas’ s new Perth transit lounge. (Gerard  Frawley)

With the Perth-London QF9/10 flights settling into regular operations, focus for Qantas now turns to Project Sunrise , its ambitious plan to introduce what Alan Joyce describes {as a|like a|being a} “ super long-haul” aircraft into service from 2022 capable of flying nonstop {from the|from your|through the} east coast of Australia to London and {New York|Nyc|Ny}.

The challenging nature of such super long-haul flights would limit the aircraft’ s {ability to|capability to|capacity to} carry freight, but {that could|which could|that may} provide an opportunity for new thinking in passenger amenity.

Among the ideas being considered for the new aircraft type, either the  Boeing 777X   or  Airbus A350 , include exercise areas and sleeping berths, Joyce told an Aviation Club of the UK lunch {in London|working in london} on March 27.

“ We are also looking at do we need {and should|and really should|and may} we have four classes? {Is there a|Do they offer a} new class that’ s needed on the aircraft? ” Joyce said of the cabin configuration of the  Project Sunrise aircraft, which would {be required to|be asked to|have to} operate flights of more than 20 hours from Sydney and Melbourne to London (Sydney and Melbourne to {New York|Nyc|Ny} would be about 18 hours).

“ Could some of the freight areas {that we|that people|that individuals} may not be able to use {be used|be applied|be taken} as an exercise area? Could they be used for berths {for people|for individuals|for folks} to sleep in? What are the out there ideas that could apply to this {and really|and also} change air travel for the future. {And nothing|Certainly nothing}, nothing is off the table. ”

Qantas says the 787-9 has thus been performing flawlessly in Qantas service. (Qantas)

Qantas says the 787-9 has thus been performing flawlessly in Qantas service. (Qantas)

Joyce said Qantas is continuing to work with both Airbus and Boeing on defining aircraft payload range performance.

“ It is also about getting an aircraft {that not|not} only can do Sydney to London, but at the same time {the same|exactly the same|a similar} aircraft is capable of being redirected to Sydney to {Hong Kong|Hk} or Sydney-Singapore.

“ It can’ t be too heavy, it can’ t be specialised too much {so that|to ensure that|in order that} it’ s not usable elsewhere [on the network]. That’ s a big challenge. ”

That suggests Qantas is looking to acquire an aircraft under Project Sunrise that requires as little customisation and development as possible.

The inaugural QF9 nonstop flight Joyce had flown from Perth to London had a flight time of {a little|just a little|slightly} over 17 hours. {The challenge|The task|The process} for the much longer New York and London nonstop flights, Joyce said, was “ {to do it|to accomplish|to obtain} with a full passenger load, a full freight load {and their|and the} bags”.

“ We have all this computing power now, all this technology, and it’ s working with both Airbus and Boeing to tweak the aircraft {if necessary|if required|if possible} to get them to that range, and we’ re getting closer all the time, ” he said.

Qantas, Joyce said, is “ a company that isn’ t resting on its laurels. It is a company that is saying we can do more in this space and we have a vision to stretch it even further”.

“ {And we|And|And that we} have we believe one last frontier in aviation. That last frontier is getting {from the|from your|through the} east coast of Australia to London. And I think {that we have|that we get} it in sight that by 2022 I believe we will have broken and pushed though that last frontier. ”

The flight crew of QF9 – First Officer Dave Summergreene, Captain Jeff Foote, Captain Lisa Norman and Second Officer Troy Lane – are all smiles after landing in London. (Qantas)

The flight crew of QF9 – First Officer Dave Summergreene, Captain Jeff Foote, Captain Lisa Norman and Second Officer Troy Lane – are all smiles after landing in London. (Qantas)

For a first-person perspective {on what|about what|on which} it was like on board the inaugural flight, read Jordan Chong’ s experience in seat 41C, “ Nine wide: Life at the back of the bus on QF9”, here .

This story first appeared in the May 2018 edition of Australian Aviation. To read more stories {like this|such as this|similar to this}, become a member here .