Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith) has selected the A350-1000(ULR) for its proposed Project Sunrise ultra-long-haul operations but has still not finalised the decision to launch such flights, the Australian airline said in a press release.

Qantas said that while no firm order has been placed yet, it "will work closely with Airbus to prepare contract terms for up to 12 aircraft ahead of a final decision by the Qantas Board", which is expected in March 2020.

The A350-1000(ULR) will be equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, an additional fuel tank, and a slightly increased maximum take-off weight.

"Between the research flights and what we’ve learned from two years of flying Perth International to London Heathrow, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia. The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and the deal on the table with Airbus gives us the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience," Qantas Group Chief Executive Alan Joyce said.

The manufacturer agreed to extend the deadline to confirm delivery slots by one month to March 2020. Qantas welcomed this change, pointing out that it "provides additional time to negotiate an industrial agreement without impacting the planned start date of Project Sunrise flights in the first half of calendar 2023".

Qantas clarified that the last remaining "gap in the business case" was an agreement with the pilot unions.

"From the outset, we’ve been clear that Project Sunrise depends on a business case that works. We’ll only commit to this investment if we know it will generate the right return for our shareholders given the inherent commercial risks. We’ve done a lot of work on the economics and we know the last gap we have to close is some efficiency gains associated with our pilots. We’re offering promotions and an increase in pay but we’re asking for some flexibility in return, which will help lower our operating costs," Joyce said.

The airline said discussions with the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) were ongoing.

Qantas said that based on the information already provided by the airline after two ultra-long-haul research flights to Sydney Kingsford Smith from London Heathrow and New York JFK, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has indicated that it was willing to amend the crew operating time rules to permit Project Sunrise operations.

The airline is also continuing work on a cabin redesign for flights lasting up to 21 hours.

Boeing initially proposed the B777-8 for Qantas' Project Sunrise operations but was later reported to have switched the offer to B777-200(LR)s given the delays marring the B777X programme.