Qantas changes the game with departure of first nonstop Australia-UK passenger flight

787-9 VH-ZND departs Perth this evening headed for London Heathrow. (Brendan Scott)

History was achieved on Saturday, March 24, 2018, when Qantas flight QF9 took off from Perth Airport bound for London Heathrow.

Some 71 years after the Kangaroo Route was first established, the continents of Australia and Europe are now linked by regularly scheduled nonstop passenger flights.

QF9, operated by Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND, was carrying about 200 passengers, including Qantas executives, politicians, representatives from the media, Qantas suppliers and aviation enthusiasts.

Inaugural QF9 take-off

It’s wheels up for QF9 'Emily Kame Kngwarreye' on its way from Perth to London.

Posted by Qantas on Saturday, 24 March 2018

“It is a historic day for Western Australia, a historic day for aviation, a historic day for Qantas,” Joyce told media inside Qantas’s international transit lounge at Perth Airport’s Terminal 4 on Saturday, some three hours before QF9’s departure.

“From today it will be the first nonstop link between Australia and Europe that has ever occurred in aviation.

“We’re so excited.”

(Keith Anderson)

The Perth-London Heathrow route represents something of a beachhead for Qantas, with the success of the flight potentially spawning new nonstop services from Perth – Qantas’s new western hub – to other points on the European continent.

While the economics of such an ultra long-haul flight are challenging, Joyce said the response to the new route has been outstanding.

He said forward bookings showed 60 per cent of the traffic on the flight was going from London to Perth, with 40 per cent connecting onwards to the rest of the Qantas network.

“That’s important for the economics,” Joyce said.

And of the traffic that was headed to Perth, Joyce said 15 per cent of travellers were staying for three days or more.

“This is before we really get in to promoting the service, getting more attention on top of it. So this is fantastic already for tourism and I think it can only grow,” Joyce explained.

The original kangaroo route was operated by Lockheed Constellations. (Qantas)

The first incarnation of the Kangaroo Route that linked Sydney with London was operated by a Lockheed Constellation that carried 29 passengers and involved seven stops over four days of travel. A ticket cost 525 pounds – or $35,000 in today’s money.

Today, the Perth-London Heathrow flight is scheduled to cover the 7,829nm journey in 17 hours and 20 minutes. It is the second-longest passenger flight in the world measured by distance. A return ticket is priced from about $1,300.

Qantas is configuring its 787-9s, which are powered by two GEnx-1B engines, in a ‘premium-heavy’ configuration seating 236 passengers, with 42 seats in business class in a 1-2-1 configuration offering direct aisle access for every passenger, 28 in premium economy laid out 2-3-2 across and 166 in economy in a 3-3-3 layout with 32in seat pitch.

Some 30 per cent of seats on the 787-9 are in business or premium economy, the highest percentage of any of aircraft type in the Qantas fleet.

Alan Joyce checks in for QF9.

Such a configuration reflects both the business-heavy nature of the routes the airline will operate the aircraft on, but it is also optimised to provide the payload-range performance necessary for ultra long-haul routes like Perth-London, which will be the longest route yet operated by the 787.

And it would appear that premium mix is matching the demand for seats at the pointy end.

“It has more business class and premium economy seats than we’ve ever put on an aircraft and we are filling them,” Joyce said.

“The forward bookings in those are over 90 per cent and are very strong, so the economics of this route is looking very strong from day one.

“In fact, we think we will make money from the first day, which I have not actually seen in a new international route for a long time. So the economic is starting out immensely strong.”

The airline has also engaged experts from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, industrial designer David Caon and its own consulting chef Neil Perry to introduce a number of cabin and lounge features designed to help cope with the effects of jetlag.

Inside the new Qantas Perth transit lounge. (Qantas)

Joyce said the 787-9 product was the “best service that Qantas has ever put in the air”.

“We are so looking forward to landing in London [after] 17 hours and 20 minutes on a game-changing aviation flight,” Joyce said.

QF9 is scheduled to land at London Heathrow at 0510 local time on Sunday March 25 2018.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce with the QF9 operating crew, Captain Lisa Norman, Captain Jeff Foote, First Officer Dave Summergreene, and Second Officer Troy Lane, before departure. (Qantas)
The QF9 cabin crew poses for photos prior to departure. (Victor Pody)