Qantas announced plans this week to start running test flights straight from New York and London to Sydney—sending mostly empty planes with just a small handful of airline staff to see how the human body holds up to a 20-hour commute. The tests could kick off as soon as October, according to Bloomberg, and the airline will start out by trialling a payload of 40 passengers and crew on what is the world’s longest direct flight. Those on board will undergo a host of medical checks and assessments to gauge the health effects of the trip.
“The things we learn on these flights will be invaluable,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who believes the non-stop transglobal trip represents aviation’s final frontier.
The first test flights will be conducted using Boeing Co. Dreamliners—a mid-sized long-haul aircraft that typically seats 240 to 330 passengers—although it’s yet to be confirmed which model of plane would be used for the real thing. The task of loading up an aircraft with its full capacity of passengers, as well as their luggage, before flying them 16,000 odd kilometres across the planet comes with its share of difficulties, and the airline is yet to decide on a model that can pull it off. Then there’s the added concern that passengers might lose their minds sitting in an economy cabin for nearly an entire day.
Qantas, who have been contemplating the ultra long-haul service for a while, previously entertained the idea of including amenities such as bunks, beds, and even a gym. Earlier this year, though, Joyce announced that the airline was scrapping those creature comforts and offering passengers a space to have a stretch and a drink of water instead. He also noted that Qantas pilots had to agree to the longer working hours.
“There are a significant number of hurdles to overcome but we think we can make this work,” he said. “There’s still not full payload on each aircraft, but there’s enough we think to make it commercially viable if the other parts of the business case get there.”
If all goes well with the test flights, Qantas is hoping to offer the first commercial trips on the route as early as 2022.