The launch today of non-stop A380s on the Sydney-Dallas Forth Worth route each way is not just a major advance for Australia-US travellers, but one that might see new competing long haul routes opened across the Pacific.
The Qantas initiative is long overdue, although it does involve the initial 569 tonnes Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW) version of the A380, which will miss the extra payload available with the improved 575 tonne version which has been delivered to customers for the giant Airbus since late last year.
With Singapore Airlines quitting its incredibly long (sometimes more than 20 hours duration) route between Singapore and Newark (for Manhattan), the SYD-DFW route at a nominal distance of 13,804 kilometres becomes the world’s longest scheduled airline service.
It opens up more comfortably and reliably the huge range of connections available at DFW with Qantas alliance partner American Airlines. There is a near unanimous view among travellers that Los Angeles is an inferior connecting hub to Dalls Fort Worth provided that your onward connection doesn’t involve backtracking.
(To that extent the map of connections available at DFW shown below is misleading. It is the cities east, north and south of the hub that work way better for travellers.)
However, nothing ever stays the same when one airline comes up with something markedly better than before, and with luck, this could see some major competitive responses from the other players on the open skies US-Australia route.
The two most commercially potent would be non-stop flights between Houston, also in Texas, or Atlanta, Georgia, and Sydney or Melbourne or both.
New York-Australia non-stops are not in frame with commercial payloads for any of the aircraft that are considered very long range capable, which are the 575 tonne version of the A380, the Boeing 777-200LR which outreaches the 777-300ER, and the Boeing 787-9, the last named especially so as engine performance improvements are anticipated (reasonably) since that’s what engine makers do.
Virgin Australia partner Delta is the world’s largest operator of 777-200LRs and the type could on the published specifications and taking into account the en route conditions, manage non-stops between Sydney and Atlanta, which is the world’s largest hub, commanding to some extent, some of the connections that make DFW attractive.
United could if it was convinced of the commercial case, operate 787-9s between Houston and either or both Sydney and Melbourne. It is about to start using the 787-9 non-stop between Melbourne and LAX, and has flagged using the larger but similarly long range A350-1000 between Sydney and that airport, and perhaps San Francisco.
There is some frustration in the Australian market with the lack of Qantas and Virgin Australia non-stop flights to San Franciso from any eastern Australian city, and its 787-9s give United the opportunity to exploit that weakness.
While LAX has in part been substantially improved as an airport, SFO has arguably stolen the march already and is an important destination in its own right for traffic originating on both sides of the Pacific which has been seriously neglected by both Australian carriers whether by code share or in their own aircraft.
For Qantas, with dozens of options or purchase rights on 787-9s, it could use them to deal with all of these competitive opportunities or threats to its strong trans Pacific franchise.
For Virgin Australia, with a partnership with Delta we rarely if ever hear about, there might be much to be gained from encouraging its US business partner to take this country more seriously, and put 777-200LRs on the Melbourne-LAX or SFO routes to give it representation where it is either weak, or a non-participant.