At a time when traveling more than two kilometers is a pipe dream beyond the reach of millions, it’s not surprising the mood isn’t right to press on with plans for a 19-hour nonstop flight service between London and Sydney.
Australian airline Qantas broke two world records last November with its experimental research flight GF789, which became the world’s longest passenger flight by a commercial airline both for distance, at 17,800 kilometers (about 11,060 miles), and for duration in the air, at 19 hours and 19 minutes.
The flight was part of an ambitious Qantas plan dubbed Project Sunrise that also included nonstop services between New York and Sydney.
Described as Qantas’ chief exec Alan Joyce as the “last frontier” of commercial flying, the world appeared ready to usher in a new generation of ultra long-haul flights. The airline had been expected to announce a decision in the past few weeks on whether not it would go ahead with the services.
Then Covid-19 appeared on the horizon.
“There is huge potential for Project Sunrise but the time is not right now given the impact Covid-19 has had on world travel,” Joyce said in a call to reporters on May 5, in statements confirmed to CNN by Qantas.
Qantas had been hoping to make the new routes part of its regular schedule by 2023. It was announced in December that the airline had chosen Airbus as its partner for the routes and was drafting a deal for up to 12 modified A350s.
“We’re obviously talking to Airbus about the 350s,” Joyce said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “While we are in a recovery phase of Covid-19 it’s not appropriate for us to put an order in for that large number of aircraft and the capital expenditure that that would entail.”
The project is still very much on airline’s radar, though, with Joyce describing Project Sunrise as a “longer-term opportunity.”
Qantas shared a video last month revealing how its planes are being maintained and cared for after being taken out of service during the pandemic.
All Qantas scheduled international flights are currently suspended, as are those of its subsidiary Jetstar. Together they’ve grounded more than 150 aircraft, including all their A380s, 747s and B787s.
Qantas is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020. The airline’s original mission was to serve sparsely populated Northern Australia and is first aircraft was an Avro 504, a pre-World War I biplane that could seat a pilot and one passenger.
CNN’s Barry Neild, Richard Quest, Michelle Toh, Lilit Marcus and Miquel Ros contributed to this report.