The first non-stop commercial airline flight from New York to Sydney has landed after 19 hours 16 minutes in the air.
A total of 49 passengers and crew were on the flight, which was used to run a series of experiments to assess health and well-being on board. Data from these experiments will be used help shape the crew rostering and customer service of Qantas’ ultra long haul flights in future.
Tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers. Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted in ways that are expected to help reduce jet lag, according to the medical researchers and scientists who have partnered with Qantas.
Arriving in Sydney, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “This is a really significant first for aviation. Hopefully, it’s a preview of a regular service that will speed up how people travel from one side of the globe to the other.
“We know ultra long haul flights pose some extra challenges but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly further. 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 jet lag straight away.
“What’s already clear is how much time you can save. Our regular, one-stop New York to Sydney service (QF12) took off three hours before our direct flight but we arrived a few minutes ahead of it, meaning we saved a significant amount of total travel time by not having to stop,” added Mr Joyce.
Qantas Captain Sean Golding, who led the four pilots operating the service, said: “The flight went really smoothly. 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 optimising the flight path to make the best of the conditions.
“We had a lot of interest from air traffic controllers as we crossed through different airspace because of the uniqueness of this flight. We also had a special sign off and welcome home from the control towers in New York and Sydney, which you don’t get every day.
“Overall, we’re really happy with how the flight went and it’s great have some of the data we need to help assess turning this into a regular service,” said Captain Golding.
Above: The crew at New York's John F Kennedy airport
Due to the low passenger load, each passenger was allocated a business class seat that could convert into a bed, although passengers were encouraged to spend time in the coach cabin in order to balance the plane.
"I feel better than I usually do," said Nick Mole, one of the passengers in the research study, about 17 hours into the flight. Mr. Mole often flies in business class, but said that he feels better rested after an ultra-long-haul direct flight, rather than one with a connection, including Qantas' service to New York via Los Angeles. "I'm not sure I'd want to do 20 hours in the back of the plane, though," he added.
Left -one of Qantas's new Boeing 787-900 Dreamliners
The flights form part of planning for Project Sunrise – Qantas’ goal to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) to London and New York.
Three flights over three months will use new Boeing 787-9s and re-route their planned delivery flights. Instead of flying empty from Seattle to Australia, the aircraft will simulate two Project Sunrise routes – London and New York to Sydney.
This will represent the world’s first flight by a commercial airline direct from New York to Sydney and only the second time a commercial airline has flown direct from London to Sydney.
Each flight will have a maximum of 40 people, including crew, in order to minimise weight and give the necessary fuel range. Carbon emissions from the flights will be fully offset.
The on-board research is being designed in partnership with Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre and Monash University in conjunction with CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity.
People in the cabin – mostly Qantas employees – will be fitted with wearable technology devices and take part in specific experiences at varying stages of the 19 hour flights. Scientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement and in-flight entertainment to assess impact on health, well-being and body clock.
Monash University researchers will work with pilots to record crew melatonin levels before, during and after the flights. Pilots will wear an EEG (electroencephalogram) device that tracks brain wave patterns and monitors alertness. The aim is to establish data to assist in building the optimum work and rest pattern for pilots operating long haul services.
CEO Alan Joyce added the flights will give medical experts the chance to do real-time research that will translate into health and well-being benefits.
“Ultra-long haul flying presents a lot of common sense questions about the comfort and well-being of passengers and crew. These flights are going to provide invaluable data to help answer them,” he said.
Above - descent over Sydney
“For customers, the key will be minimising jet lag and creating an environment where they are looking forward to a restful, enjoyable flight. For crew, it’s about using scientific research to determine the best opportunities to promote alertness when they are on duty and maximise rest during their down time on these flights.
“Flying non-stop from the East Coast of Australia to London and New York is truly the final frontier in aviation, so we’re determined to do all the groundwork to get this right.
“No airline has done this kind of dedicated research before and we’ll be using the results to help shape the cabin design, in-flight service and crew roster patterns for Project Sunrise. We’ll also be looking at how we can use it to improve our existing long-haul flights,” continued Mr Joyce.
Qantas has already conducted data on passenger sleep strategies on its direct Perth–London service, and some of these initial findings will be assessed further as part of these dedicated research flights. Customer feedback on food choices, separate stretching and well-being zones and entertainment options will also be tested.
Two more research flights are planned as part of the Project Sunrise evaluations – London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December. Emissions from all research flights will be fully offset.
A decision on Project Sunrise is expected by the end of the year.
Left: NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: (left to right) Qantas flight crew First Officer Jeremy Sutherland, Captain Sean Golding and second officers Lauren Drysdale and Jason MacDonald on October 17, 2019 in New York City. Qantas is the first commercial airline to ever fly direct from New York to Sydney and the 19-hour flight taking off on October 18, 2019 from New York's JFK airport is restricted to 50 people including crew to increase aircraft range, and will include medical scientists and health experts on board to conduct studies in the cockpit and the cabin to help determine strategies to promote long haul in-flight health and well-being on ultra-long haul flights. It comes as the national carrier continues to work towards the final frontier of global aviation by launching non-stop commercial flights between the US and the UK to the east coast of Australia with "Project Sunrise".
(all photos © James D. Morgan/Qantas 2019)
PROJECT SUNRISE RESEARCH FLIGHTS – KEY FACTS
Non-stop flights from New York and London to Sydney will take around 19 hours each, subject to wind and weather conditions. The data will be used to inform all Sunrise flight planning, including from Brisbane and Melbourne.
The aircraft will position from Boeing’s factory in Seattle, where they will be collected off the production line by Qantas pilots, and flown to their starting points of New York (for two of the flights) and London (for one flight). Cabins will be fully fitted out and otherwise ready to enter normal commercial service.
The flights will take place in October, November and December, in-line with scheduled aircraft deliveries from Boeing.
Flights will have up to 40 people (including crew) on board and a minimum of luggage and catering to extend the range of 787-9.
Other than crew, those in the cabin will mostly be Qantas employees taking part in testing. No seats will be sold as these flights are for research purposes only.
After the flights, each aircraft will enter regular service with Qantas International – with just a few extra miles on the clock.
Qantas operates the largest airline carbon offset scheme in the world. This same program will be used to offset all the carbon emissions from these three flights.
No commercial airline has ever flown direct from New York to Australia. Qantas has once flown non-stop from London to Sydney in 1989 to mark the entry into service of the Boeing 747-400. That flight had a total of 23 people on board and minimal internal fit-out in order to provide the range. The aircraft, registered VH-OJA, was donated by Qantas in 2017 to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society near Wollongong, New South Wales.