Qantas’s nonstop test flight from New York to Sydney with a Boeing 787-9 landed on Sunday after 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air. A total of 49 passengers and crew occupied the Dreamliner, used to run a series of experiments to assess on-board health and well-being ahead of the airline’s plans to launch direct service from Australia’s east coast to New York and London under the code name Project Sunrise. The airline said it would use data from the experiments to help shape the crew rostering and customer service of the service, a decision on which Qantas expects to release by the end of this year.
Tests ranged from monitoring brain waves, melatonin levels, and alertness in pilots, while cabin crew held exercise classes for passengers. The tests also included adjustments to cabin lighting and in-flight meals in ways expected to reduce jetlag, according to medical researchers and scientists who have partnered with Qantas.
“This is a really significant first for aviation,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce upon his arrival with the group of passengers in Sydney. “We know ultra-long-haul flights pose some extra challenges but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly farther. The research we’re doing should give us better strategies for improving comfort and well-being along the way.
“Night flights usually start with dinner and then lights off. For this flight, we started with lunch and kept the lights on for the first six hours, to match the time of day at our destination. It means you start reducing the jetlag straight away."
Qantas captain Sean Golding reported a smooth and largely uneventful flight for the four pilots operating the service. “The flight went really smoothly,” he said. “Headwinds picked up overnight, which slowed us down to start with, but that was part of our scenario planning. Given how long we were airborne, we were able to keep optimizing the flight path to make the best of the conditions."
Qantas plans two more research flights as part of the Project Sunrise evaluations. It has scheduled a flight from London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December.
Qantas has pit the Airbus A350-1000 against the Boeing 777-8 as the contenders for an order to fulfill the Project Sunrise service.