ULR flight

Aug 25, 2017

Air NZ might preempt Qantas push for New York non-stops

Qantas is again throwing down the non-stop gauntlet to Airbus and Boeing, but there are 'catches'

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The original A350-900 breaking cover in 2013

Air New Zealand is expected to launch ‘spoiler’ non-stop flights between Auckland and New York City years before Qantas can persuade Airbus or Boeing to build a jet which can serve the Big Apple non-stop from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Plane Talking spies have seen delegations from Airbus in the Kiwi carrier’s headquarters in recent months (mission unknown) and only this week it spoke of its determination to invest in new long haul jets from either Airbus or Boeing.

The long hyped (and highly honorable) Qantas ambition for such epic duration flights to London as well as NYC from the eastern capitals of Australia are likely to be dusted off for another run at the announcement later this morning of the QF group’s profits in the year to June 30.

(There is a detailed recital of this behind The Australian’s paywall this morning.)

Qantas is looking toward such a service by 2022, assuming it succeeds in persuading the two big planemakers to come up with a version of their airliners which could do the route with more than a token number of passengers.

The candidate airliner designs would include future versions of the Airbus A350, even the large capacity A380, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner family and its 777-8, which has yet to fly as part of the 777-X family, but which is currently speculated to be ready by 2022.

The catch for Qantas is that an A350 ultra long range or URL model is available from the second half of next year, and with further tweaking, could carry a convincing multi-class payload of passengers between Auckland and any of NYC’s airports by 2020.

Auckland is about two hours flight time closer to the Big Apple than any eastern Australian city. Producing such a jet would not involve the same costs and risks for the jet makers as a more advanced derivative in terms of engines as well as airframes.

And while it would involve a one-stop flight from Australia to NYC just as happens today via Los Angeles or Dallas Fort Worth or Houston, anything that cuts out a second US airport along the way is a big plus for harassed flyers coping with seemingly dysfunctional security protocols on the other side of the Pacific.

Air NZ would be able to aggregate traffic from multiple Australian cities in Auckland (as it does now on some services) meaning that the onward flight has a far better chance of being sustainable in the immediate to medium term.

However Qantas would be dividing the demand for such ULR flights between dedicated jets flying from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, meaning a much higher risk of over capacity on three jets instead of one on any given day.

The Air NZ ‘plot’ to make Auckland the centre of the Universe, and not just Middle Earth, might eventually succumb to the pressure of demand from each Australian city, but neither Airbus nor Boeing has been able to meet their own deadlines for the higher volume introduction of new versions or models of wide body jets on time this century.

Thus a 2022 target date for a new jet to fit the Qantas ambitions for London and NYC may prove problematical, giving Air NZ a long ‘holiday’ from direct competition on a service to the latter destination.

In the post Brexit era non Australian airlines that could serve the London non-stop market include British Airways, indirectly part owned by Qatar Airways, and Virgin Atlantic, which is effectively controlled by US giant Delta.  All three are major A350 users or customers, with BA and QR also flying 787s and the Qatari flag carrier a launch customer for the 777-X series.

Delta would be the obvious US candidate carrier to exercise its open skies rights to fly non-stop between NYC and Auckland, as well as to Australian cities non-stop, once that capability in terms of larger loads is built into an airliner.

PS: The first Qantas 787-9 has broken cover outside the final assembly line at Everett north of Seattle

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8 thoughts on “Air NZ might preempt Qantas push for New York non-stops

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    Qantas , Virgin and other carriers to US have all their flights leaving Sydney in a narrow window, eg for SAT its 9:30am for Virgin to 11:15am , Delta. I understand thats so they arrive in the morning at LAX. Im sure Air NZ will be structuring its time of arrival at JFK or Newark to suit a later flight from Sydney. The current shortest one stop flight times are around 21 hours with stopovers in LAX, Dallas and Vancouver . I presume a direct flight Auckland New York will be in the range of 18+ hours. A350 -900 ULR maybe ?

  2. michael r james

    Air NZ would be able to aggregate traffic from multiple Australian cities in Auckland

    Another question out of naivety from me: is Qantas able to do this (aggregate its flights from Briz/Syd/Melb)? I suppose not.

    These 20+ hour flights are not the solution to our tyranny of distance problem. The only people who would tolerate the would be the rich (but not rich enough for a private jet) or bizoids who are not paying out of their own pockets and whose companies are anal about so-called (but fake) “lost” working time. But that model was tried with Concorde on a much busier and hi-networth route and though profitable for BA was hardly a big item for the company. It doesn’t make any sense on any basis except for a Qantas desperately searching for a solution to an almost impossible problem.

    1. Dan Dair

      Perhaps it’s time that QF & ANZ instigated an MoU between themselves,
      not about competition,
      but about working together to generate enough bums-on-seats, for a plane manufacturer to decide there will be enough sales for these long-range aircraft.?
      (Perhaps SIA & Cathay might be persuaded into joining the MoU)

      Most other airlines don’t need that extra-range, but for airlines based in & around the Pacific, that connectivity might be a game-changer for their profitability & network viability.?

      If Airbus, for example, were guaranteed their required minimum of ULR A350 sales by a partnership or conglomerate of airlines, they’d probably get right onto it.? Speeding-up the time when such a aircraft actually came into service & allowing those airlines to offer something which isn’t currently available & which will be a viable alternative to some of the ME3’s offerings. ?

      1. michael r james

        Dan Dair.
        That misses my point which is that given the largish number of destination cities in the US, and our 3 major east-coast cities, this doesn’t solve the problem: very few of these non-stop routes would be viable. Especially a gigantic 4-engine plane that needs to run 95+% capacity to have a hope of making money.

        One really needs (ie. QF really needs) a midway point where it can aggregate pax between all of these multiple endpoints. Of course it needs to be a place that 1. allows it (my original question of whether NZ allows QF to do it in Auckland; I presume not but I never seem to get clear answers to what seem to me to be simple questions, eg. I still don’t know if Singapore allows QF to do this for onward Euro or China flights); and 2. is still allowed (IATA whatever) to fly to those US destinations (which I presume eliminates Honolulu).

        I (and most people on this site over the years) don’t see much attraction in monstrously-long non-stop flights whether they were possible or profitable or whatever. However, if one change on the same airline gave access to most of the major US cities by avoiding using LAX and avoiding flying on an American domestic carrier (as a domestic flight ie. from LAX) then I reckon that is a market.

        Incidentally Auckland doesn’t really fulfil this need does it, as it brings the mid-west and east-coast US cities only 2 hours closer (actually presumably less since Auckland is awkwardly south).

  3. comet

    In theory, a larger plane should be able to fly further than a smaller one.

    1. Karl

      A reengineered next generation 600-tonne A380-900 could IMJ have a near antipodal range of 20,000 km. The enablers would be a reengineered wing and Rolls Royce Advance-type engines.

      The wing would be reengineered with composite spars and wing covers, while the wing span would be extended from the fixed span of 79.75m to a an in-flight wingspan of 95m, but when folded on the ground, would measure 84.75m. Wing area would go from 845m2 to about 880m2. The outboard engines should be moved further out by about 3.4m; from Rib 31 where the engine attachment pylon intersects the wing’s front spar to Rib 37*. From Rib 37 the aft spar (and trailing edge) would have a slightly larger sweep in order to keep a sufficent wingbox width at the tip. We’d be adding 6 Ribs (50-55) to the outboard wing. The hinge line for the 5m downward folding wing tip would be oriented parallel to Rib 55 (i.e as described in link nr. 2 **). The outer flaps would also be extended by about 3.4m, while the ailerons would be moved further ouboard by 3.4m and extended thanks to the fixed wing span extension to 84.75m. Hence, the basic planform would remain the same — the leading edge slats would only be extended in length while the trailing edge would only undergo modifications in the outboard flaps and ailerons. Most of the existing aluminium ribs could be re-used on the modified wing (i.e. both the A350 and 787 have aluminium ribs in the wings). Likewise, most if not all of the current systems in the wing could be re-used. The wing aspect ratio would go from (79.75)squared/845m2 to (95)squared/880m2: leading to around a 36 percent reduction in induced drag — that’s equivalent to a 15 percent-plus reduction in fuel burn.

      Assuming that 80,000 lbs of thrust-class Rolls Royce Advance engines would have at least a 15 percent lower thrust specific fuel consumption than the current A380 engines — engines that would also be suitable for a neo version of the A350-900 — and that reduction in the mass from the new composite wing would lead to about a 5 percent further reduction in fuel burn, a next generation A380-800 would have upwards of 35 percent lower block fuel consumption, while a 10-frame stretched, 80m long A380-900 would have about a 30 percent lower block fuel burn than the current A380-800. This would mean that a non-stop SYD-LHR capable A380-900 would still have a lower block fuel burn than the total fuel burned combined on both of the SYD-DXB and DXB-LHR route sectors that’s operated by QF’s current fleet of A380s.

      IMJ, therefore, it’s the next generation passenger friendly A380 that would truly open up the near antipodal route sectors and not further derivatives of the A350 and/or the 777X. Interestingly, the wing modifications required for such a next generation A380 is less than what’s required for the wing on the 777X where everything is new.

      For sure, the A380NG would require some modifications to the existing infrastructure (i.e box increase to 85m from 80m and wing-span increase to 95m during take-off), but the enormous increase in the fuel economy would probably make this a whole lot easier to undertake in a world that’s becoming ever more conscientious that all sectors of society – including the airline industry – have important roles to play in achieving climate stabilization.

      *Link #1: https://static.rcgroups.net/forums/attachments/4/8/2/6/6/3/a5946568-89-Airbus%20A380-800%20wing%20stations.png

      ** Link #2: https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publicationDetails/originalDocument?CC=GB&NR=2524827A&KC=A&FT=D&ND=3&date=20151007&DB=EPODOC&locale=en_EP#

      1. Dan Dair

        That’s extremely impressive.!
        I wonder if there’ll be anything like enough orders, for Airbus to make the necessary investment to make it happen.?

        I’m also wondering aloud, (as I have before) if anyone has any insight into the fate of the A380 airframes that are just coming out of service with their first-users.?
        If they’re headed for the boneyard, it will be a bad sign for Airbus, that there actually isn’t a second-user market out there for the big-bird.? Airlines & leasing companies will need to factor that in, when they do the numbers about what the ‘380 is worth to them.?

        1. Karl

          @Dan Dair
          An A380-900ULR would be just one member of a larger family of aircraft — just like the A350-900ULR. You’d have the standard A380-900 (lower MTOW) and the stretched and bigger A380-1000. However, the current A380-800 should not be upgraded, it should be replaced by a VLA twin-engine aircraft (A370X) that would be a derived from the A380NG and that would still have a massive amount of commonality with the A380-900/-1000.

          Instead of a wing root insert — something which Boeing planned to undertake for the 747X as described in the flightglobal link below — 2.5m of the wing root should be taken out, while the profile of the entire inboard section out to the inboard engine position would be changed. The entire outboard wing section outboard of the inner engine position would be nearly identical on both the A380NG and the A370X; or similar to how the outer wing section on the 747X would have been identical to the outer wing section on the 747-400.

          The A370-800X would have the same fuselage length as the A380-800 and have a wing area that would be reduced to 790m2, and an in-flight wingspan of 90m, but when folded on the ground, would measure 79.75m (like the current A380-800). MTOW would be around 450 metric tonnes. With two 130,000 lbs thrust engines, the range should be similar to that of the A330-200. The larger A370-900X would have the same fuselage length as the A380-900NG, and a range similar to that of the A330-300 (i.e. same MTOW as the smaller A370-900X).

          Being able to offer a family of super efficient VLAs – instead of just offering one over-built version that’s less efficient than it should be — would IMO change the picture completely. An A380-900ULR would just be icing on the cake.

          As for your last question, one should keep in mind that the the first 20, or so, A380s required their own certification as they did not conform to the production standard due to the early problems with the wiring (i.e. caused by designers using different versions of the software — CATIA versions 4 and 5)


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