By Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times
Australian carrier Qantas said Thursday it has chosen the Airbus A350-100 over Boeing’s forthcoming 777X as its future ultra-long-range aircraft.
Two years ago, the airline announced a competition between the two jetmakers to develop an aircraft that would stretch the range of current jets to the limit and fly nonstop between Sydney and London. Qantas asked the manufacturers to tweak their contending airplanes — the A350-1000 and the 777-8X — to provide the range necessary.
Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the Maximum takeoff weight of its jet to deliver the performance required for such long routes.
Qantas hopes to introduce the long-range service, dubbed Project Sunrise, in 2023. No orders have been placed but Qantas said it will work closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision in March on whether to proceed.
Boeing’s disadvantage was the fading chance of its 777-8X being available in time.
The still-to-fly 777X will come in two models, with the larger 777-9X rolled out first. That version is already delayed by a problem with its GE9X engine that requires a redesign, which pushed out the jet’s first flight from this year into next.
In September, a stress test ripped open the fuselage just short of the target load, adding more engineering design work to the program.
Giant Gulf carrier Emirates, the 777X launch customer, last month pared its original order for 150 of the jets down to 126, substituting 787s instead.
Emirates CEO Tim Clark recently told the Seattle Times that, given the GE9X problems and the safety issues that have grounded the Max and the 787 before that, he wants a thorough flight test program for the 777X of at least 16 months.
“I’ll be surprised if delivery to Emirates is before the second half of 2021,” Clark said.
Because of those delays to the initial 777X model and the company’s all-out focus on getting the 737 Max back in service, Boeing has put development of the second version, the 777-8x that was to be used in Project Sunrise, on the back burner. That plane was originally scheduled to lag the first model by about a year, so it’s no longer certain it can make its first delivery before 2023.
Meanwhile, the A350-1000 entered service in February and through the end of last month Airbus had delivered 19 of them.
Assuming Qantas proceeds with Project Sunrise, Airbus will win the bragging rights for the longest non-stop route in the world.