Qantas plans “game-changing” Perth-London 787-9 services in March 2018

An artist's impression of the Boeing 787-9 in Qantas livery. (Qantas)
An artist’s impression of the Boeing 787-9 in Qantas livery. (Qantas)

Australia will have regular nonstop scheduled passenger services to Europe for the first time in 2018, with Qantas to launch Perth-London with the Boeing 787-9.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the 17-hour, 7,829nm Perth-London service would be a “game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft” with huge opportunities for travel tourism and trade.

“It’s great news for travellers because it will make it easier to get to London. It’s great news for Western Australia because it will bring jobs and tourism. And it’s great news for the nation, because it will bring us closer to one of our biggest trade partners and sources of visitors,” Joyce said in a statement on Sunday.

Perth Airport said in a statement Terminal 3 would be upgraded to be able to handle international flights, paving the way for Qantas to start operating one of the world’s longest international routes from March 2018.

The West Australian government was also contributing $14 million towards the cost of reconfiguring Terminal 3, Perth Airport said, which will need to have customs and border processing facilities for international flights.

“The direct flight is an exciting opportunity for Perth Airport, Qantas and Western Australia in the development of Perth as a Western Hub and a gateway to the United Kingdom,” Perth Airport chief executive Kevin Brown said.

“Perth Airport and Qantas will work to ensure that the T3 facilities are upgraded to allow for commencement of the direct flight to London from 2018.”

Currently, Qantas flies daily from both Melbourne and Sydney to London via Dubai with the A380. It is the airline’s only online destination in Europe, with the rest of the continent served via codeshares on its alliance partner Emirates through Dubai. (Qantas also has a codeshare in place with fellow oneworld member Finnair for Helsinki, which Emirates does not serve.)

And with airfares down amid intense competition on the Australia-Europe market, Joyce described Qantas’s London operations as a “challenge” during the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney on October 21.

“I have to say London is a challenge because you have over 30 carriers operating on that market and we have extremely low airfares,” Joyce said in response to a shareholder question.

“That’s one of the reasons we are considering an operation like Perth-London. If we can make it work out of Perth that is a way of actually having a very good operation we believe into London.”

Joyce said on Sunday modelling by the airline showed “people from the East Coast as well as South Australia would fly domestically to Perth to connect to our non-stop London service”.

Meanwhile, he said “many travellers from Europe will start their time in Australia with a visit to Perth before going on to see other parts of the country”.

Qantas is due to take delivery of the first of eight 787-9s on firm order in October 2017.

It is configuring its 787-9s with 236 seats, comprising 42 business class seats (in a 1-2-1 configuration), 28 premium economy seats (at 2-3-2 abreast) and 166 economy seats (at nine abreast).

Boeing lists the 787-9 as having a range of 7,635nm when carrying 290 passengers in a two-class configuration, while a Qantas fact sheet released at the time of the seating configuration promotes a range of 14,400km – or 7,775nm.

An illustration of Qantas's Boeing 787-9 cabin. (Qantas)
An illustration of Qantas’s 787-9 cabin. (Qantas)

Joyce said at the official reveal of the 787-9 seating configuration the aircraft would be able to fly the likes of Perth-London Heathrow (7,829nm), Melbourne-Dallas/Fort Worth (7,814nm) and Sydney-Chicago (8,022nm).

“So we’ve modelled all of the routes, we know what the loads can be on it, we know the restrictions in parts of the year,” Joyce said on October 27.

“As you can imagine sometimes the winds are heavy and like on our Sydney-Dallas service parts of the year we can’t take a full load. That’s fine because the economics superbly work for the entire year. The lower seat configuration does help us with some of the routes that we are looking at.”

Currently, Perth Airport’s Terminals 1 and 2, on the eastern side of the airfield, handle all international flights, as well as Virgin Australia, Alliance, Tigerair Australia and Regional Express domestic flights.

Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar’s domestic flights operate out of Terminals 3 and 4 on the western side of the airfield.

Perth Airport has said previously it hoped to eventually have all flights operating from the eastern side of the airfield some time in the next decade.

However, Qantas has been keen to have the ultra long-haul Perth-London flight operate out of Terminal 3 to avoid the need for a bus transfer across the airport, potentially impacting on minimum connection times, the passenger experience, and ultimately the prospect of the route being successful.

To that end, Perth Airport said Qantas has made an “in-principal agreement” to move all of its domestic and international services to a new terminal on the eastern side of the airfield by 31 December 2025, as part of the arrangement to upgrade Terminal 3 for international service.

“Perth Airport looks forward to working with Qantas to ensure the opportunities from this exciting proposal are realised and that the significant investments already made and proposed to be made at the airport support the long-term sustainability of the new service and future routes,” Brown said.

“The agreement ensures that the overall customer experience at Perth Airport is not diminished particularly for the 4.3 million passengers processed every year through the existing Terminal 1 (T1) International.”

Qantas said the move across to the eastern side of the airfield was “pending a commercial agreement”.

The airlines existing international flights from Perth to Singapore and (seasonal service) to Auckland would also move to Terminal 3, from Terminal 1 currently, Qantas said.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said it was an “appropriate funding contribution by the Government”.

“The State Government played an intermediary role in negotiations and our contribution is based on border control, quarantine and immigration services at T3 being an interim measure with Qantas committing to relocate to the international terminal T1 by 2025,” Barnett said.

“Today’s announcement is fantastic for West Australians with the non-stop service making travel to the UK more appealing and over time it is expected it will open up the potential for direct routes to and from other European cities.”

Tickets for the Perth-London flights would go on sale from April 2017.

Current longest nonstop passenger flights by distance (nautical miles)

1. Delhi-San Francisco (8,159nm*) operated by Air India with Boeing 777-200LR (*Pacific Ocean routing eastwards from Delhi only)
2. Dubai-Auckland (7,668nm) – operated by Emirates with Boeing 777-200LR (Airbus A380 from October 30)
3. Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth (7,454nm) – operated by Qantas with Airbus A380
4. San Francisco-Singapore (7,339nm) – operated by United with Boeing 787-9 and Singapore Airlines with Airbus A350-900
5. Atlanta-Johannesburg (7,333nm) – operated by Delta with Boeing 777-200LR
6. Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles (7,291nm) – operated by Etihad with Boeing 777-200LR
7. Dubai-Los Angeles (7,246nm) – operated by Emirates with Airbus A380
8. Jeddah-Los Angeles (7,240nm) – operated by Saudia with Boeing 777-300ER

Planned future routes

1. Singapore-New York (Newark*) (8,285nm)– to be operated by Singapore Airlines with Airbus A350-900ULR. From 2018. (*Airport choice not confirmed)
2. Doha-Auckland (7,848nm) – to be operated by Qatar Airways with Boeing 777-200LR. From February 5 2017.
3. Perth-London (Heathrow*) (7,829nm) – to be operated by Qantas with Boeing 787-9. From 2018. (*Airport choice not confirmed)
4. Singapore-Los Angeles (7,621nm) – to be operated by Singapore Airlines with Airbus A350-900ULR. From 2018

Speculated future routes

1. Sydney-New York (JFK) (8,646nm) – Qantas
2. Sydney-Chicago (ORD) (8,022nm) – Qantas
3. Melbourne-Dallas/Fort Worth (7,814nm) – Qantas
4. Doha-Santiago (7,791nm) – Qatar Airways