A flight destined to be the world’s longest has departed London for Sydney as part of research into how 19 hours in the air affects the human body.
Qantas is flying a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Heathrow to the Australian city non-stop for only the second time, with a view to launching a regular commercial service in 2023. The aircraft has just 50 passengers on board in order to ensure it can manage the 11,060 miles, expected to take 19 hours and 18 minutes.
In addition to crew and media, there will be a number of travellers participating in a study by the Australian flag carrier, in association with the University of Sydney, to monitor how such a long trip across multiple timezones can be managed. “Supper at breakfast” is one of the changes designed to help passengers adjust.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the flight could become a regular passenger service within four years. Should the airline realise that aim, it would become the longest regular flight in the world, surpassing the Singapore Airlines service between Singapore and New York by around 1,550 miles.
The second of three ultra-long-haul research flights (the first was a service from New York to Sydney last month; the last is a return trip to New York in December), Flight QF7879 is a repurposed delivery flight, with Qantas using the opportunity of taking on a new plane from Boeing’s Seattle base to test for its “Project Sunrise”.
It departed London at 6am, is heading east across central Asia, and will pass over China before heading south, via Indonesia, towards east coast of Australia.
What is Project Sunrise?
Project Sunrise is the ambition of Qantas to run ultra-long-haul flights from Sydney to anywhere on the planet, including London and New York. Its name is a nod to the famed Double Sunrise flights flown by the Australian carrier across the Indian Ocean during the Second World War, when passengers would witness two dawns from the cabin.
QF7879 took off from London Heathrow at 6am on Thursday morning and will not land in Sydney until midday on Friday (local time). In a tweet sent from the flightdeck at 8.30am GMT, the crew said they had witnessed their first sunrise off the right wing, adding: “Next sunrise will be off the left wing.”
How will passengers cope with 19 hours in the sky?
Qantas said passengers will dine on a range of “high GI [Glycemic Index] supper options such as chicken broth with macaroni or a steak sandwich, along with a glass of wine and a milk-based panna cotta dessert”.
Professor Corinne Caillaud from the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, which will be analysing data from all three research flights, said: “We are hopeful that the interventions and strategies we tried on the first research flight helped passengers better manage the challenges of crossing multiple time zones. From a research point of view, it was something quite novel.
#QF7879 will recreate our history-making LHR-SYD flight 30 years ago when it takes off 6am Thurs local time. It'll be flown by #VHZNJ, a brand new Boeing787-9 named Longreach. Our 1989 flight was made by our first 747-400. #QFnonstoppic.twitter.com/gXdZN09bgy— Qantas (@Qantas) November 14, 2019
“We’re looking forward to this second flight, which will involve passengers eating supper at breakfast time, with the aim of encouraging them to sleep at 10am in the morning London time to help avoid light and reset their body clock to Sydney time.”
Alan Joyce said that despite the lengthy duration there is passenger demand for ultra-long-haul flights. “I’ve had business travellers tell me they’d rather stay on board and watch an extra episode of their favourite show before arriving at their final destination, rather than spending 90 minutes on the ground waiting for a connecting flight,” he said.
“I’ve also had a few parents tell me they would rather not disturb their kids if they are settled in and avoid having to bundle them and all their carry-on luggage off and back on a flight during a stopover.”
Is this the first non-stop flight from London to Sydney?
Not quite. Qantas has flown London to Sydney once before. In 1989 the airline operated a one-off service, using a 747, between the two cities, with just 23 people on board. The flight was performed in secret, owing to the use of a new fuel developed by Shell, and took just over 20 hours. The 747 (registration VH-OJA) is now on display at the HARS Aviation Museum south of Sydney.
Before such endeavours, flights between the UK and Australia would take weeks. The first service departed Hounslow Heath in 1919 and landed in Darwin 28 days later. Qantas launched a quicker service in 1947, with six stops over five days.
In 2018, the airline began flying non-stop to the west coast of Australia from London. Its Perth service was seen as the first step towards realising its Project Sunrise aims.
Joyce said: “Our Perth to London flight was a huge leap forward and it’s been incredibly popular. The final frontier is New York and London to the east coast of Australia non-stop and we are hopeful of conquering that by 2023 if we can make all elements of the business case stack up.”
Inspiration for your inbox
Sign up to Telegraph Travel's new weekly newsletter for the latest features, advice, competitions, exclusive deals and comment.