The Australia flag carrier, Qantas Airways, is preparing to operate regular, nonstop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) to London and New York. This will be the longest nonstop flight route of any major airline, at 19 hours.
In preparation for this, the airline will be holding a series of test flights to observe the effects a 19-hour flight could have on the human body, in a research venture dubbed Project Sunrise.
Project Sunrise will be comprised of three ultra-long-haul research flights intended to gather new inflight passenger data, as well as to monitor crew health and well-being.
“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,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. He also said the flights will give medical experts the chance to do real-time research that will translate into health and well-being benefits.
“For customers, the key will be minimizing 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 maximize rest during their downtime on these flights,” said Joyce.
The three flights will take place over three months, and will use the 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. Each flight will have a maximum of 40 people, including crew, in order to minimize weight and ensure the necessary fuel range.
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.
“Flying nonstop 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,” said Joyce. “No airline has done this kind of dedicated research before and we’ll be using the results to help shape the cabin design, inflight 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.”
These research passengers will be made up of mostly Qantas employees, and will be fitted with wearable monitoring devices. Scientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement, and inflight entertainment to assess the impact on health, well-being and body clock.
Monash University researchers will also 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.
The test runs are scheduled for October, November and December. There is no word yet on when the long-haul route will be available to the public.