Qantas Eyes Chicago Direct as Next Step in Ultra-Long-Haul Push

(Bloomberg) -- Qantas Airways Ltd. is evaluating direct flights from Australia to Chicago as the next step in its plan to add more ultra-long-haul destinations using an expanding fleet of Boeing Co. 787 jetliners.

Fresh from launching the first-ever direct passenger service to Europe -- linking Perth with London’s Heathrow hub -- Qantas will turn its attention to the U.S. with the next batch of four 787s due for delivery this year, Chief Executive Office Alan Joyce said in an interview Tuesday.

A new service from Melbourne to San Francisco starting in September has already been announced and 787s will also replace 747 jumbos on Qantas’s existing Brisbane-Los Angeles-New York route. But also in the carrier’s thinking is a direct Brisbane-Chicago service or flights from the Queensland city to Seattle or Dallas, Joyce revealed at the Aviation Club in London.

The same analysis of a decade of wind and weather data that was applied to the Perth-Heathrow route has shown that all three destinations would be reachable with a standard passenger load, though flights wouldn’t begin until Qantas wins antitrust immunity for a joint venture with American Airlines.

Oneworld alliance partners American and Qantas in February asked U.S. regulators for a second time for permission to coordinate fares and schedules and share costs and revenue on trans-Pacific flights.

“We’re hopeful we could get through that in six months,” the CEO said, adding that the chosen service “could start as soon as the peak season, which is at the end of the year.”

Alliance Links

Chicago is an attractive destination partly because it’s a hub for American, as is Dallas, a route Qantas already serves from Sydney. Seattle is the base of Alaska Airlines, another of the Australian carrier’s partners.

The new U.S. routes will be introduced before Qantas considers adding more direct European services, which will require both sustained high bookings on the 17-hour Perth flight and a positive trend in the global economy. The London service relies on a higher-than-usual number of business- and premium-economy class seats for its viability, and French or German destinations would need to offer similar levels of high-yield demand.

Adding more European flights would require Qantas to order more 787-9s from 45 options the carrier holds with Boeing. While the first of those have expired, the airline has been able to extend them one at a time, giving it the ability to add planes in short order, Joyce said. Delivery positions for the Dreamliners start from late 2019.

Jumbo Exit

A decision on the retirement of the final six 747s of 11 that are to be replaced by 787s could come this year and would lead to further Dreamliner orders. It’s also possible the jumbos, which are among the youngest 747s still flying, could be kept in service longer.

Joyce said he’s confident that Boeing and Airbus SE will be able to eke out sufficient extra range from future models to allow Qantas to fly from Sydney and Melbourne direct to London and New York as soon as 2022.

The CEO has described the routes as the “last frontier” of aviation, after which all of the world’s major cities will have non-stop air links. Options for making such long flights more bearable would include introducing a new four-class structure, with part of the cargo hold utilized for sleeping berths, Joyce said. "Nothing is off the table,” he said.

Qantas’s first Perth-London service landed in the U.K. Sunday after a 14,498-kilometer (9,000-mile) trip. Though not quite the world’s longest flight -- the record is currently held by a Doha-Auckland service operated by Qatar Airways -- the route signals the beginning of the end of the so-called Kangaroo Route, which has seen planes make the journey from Europe to Australia in a series of hops since the advent of aviation.

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