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Non-stop flights between Australia and London creep back into the background briefings

The Airbus A380 seems to be closing in on a future capability to fly non-stop between Australia and London by stealth rather than to a fanfare.

This seems a pretty smart thing to do too when airlines are 100% focused on surviving the global economic crisis and almost totally disinterested in pitches for new jets that would take even a dollar out of the cash reserves they are trying to protect until the customers, and financiers, came back into view in, or with, the right numbers.

Reports from a low key technical media briefing in Hamburg say that incremental improvements to the engines and airframe between next year and 2012 could offer modest improvements in range and payload options for the jet now in service with Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qantas.

However those cautiously worded improvements also give credence to the view that Airbus could bring the giant airliner up to and beyond the range of A340-500, which currently flies the longest non-stop route in the world between Singapore and Newark (for New York) which is a 15,345 kilometre journey using the shortest great circle distance, which in reality always ends up being an even longer flight.

The great circle distance between Sydney and London is 17,016 kilometres.

Qantas expressed interest in flying the route non-stop five years ago, as a way of bypassing one stop flight via Singapore, Bangkok, or Hong Kong to counter the intense competitive pressure from Asian carriers.

However neither the Boeing 777-200LR nor Airbus A345 jets could do the route.

The A380 is now under going the same process of improvements seen on all modern airliners. The first version is always overtaken by later versions that offer more money making opportunities to the carriers.

Technically, a Sydney-London A380 is achievable through improved engines, a refined airframe, and the full use of areas designed to be occupied by fuel tanks. Current A380s do not carry fuel where a central fuel tank between the wings is permitted in the general design.

But the message from Hamburg seems to be one of making those improvements gradually until times improve.

It is also a pre-requisite for any future non-stop flights between the east coast capitals and London for fuel prices to remain much lower than the highs of 2008, because over those distances, more fuel per passenger will be burned on flights that do not make a refuelling stop.


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  • 1
    a a
    Posted May 13, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    more fuel per passenger will be burned on flights that do not make a refuelling stop.

    Excuse my ignorance but is that because they carry more to begin with?

  • 2
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted May 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good, and vexed question and the answer is Yes. In ultra long distance flying that very last legally required load of fuel that will allow a flight to hold and if necessary divert to an alternative airport in turn costs a prodigious amount of fuel in order to carry it for around 20 hours to the vicinity of London.

    Fuel planning is very challenging over such distances. So is ensuring that the aircraft can actually get safely airborne at Sydney on a hot summer’s day in the event of one engine failing after it reaches a speed at which it can no longer safely stop before the end of the runway.

    The whole maths of burning vast loads of fuel to actually carry residual fuel for the final stages of the flight drag the whole exercise down. And the actual performance of a jet is compromised in the early stages of very heavy flight by speed and altitude limitations.

    Over very much shorter distances a different reality comes into play. A non-stop flight to Singapore makes much more sense than one that refuels the same jet at Darwin because over those distances the benefits of flying a lighter jet on the Sydney-Darwin and Darwin-Singapore legs are consumed by the need to do an additional set of landings and takeoffs, as well as the waste of taxying to and from the terminal, as well as long pilot and cabin duty hours.