Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith) is hoping to receive binding offers from Airbus and Boeing for aircraft capable of operating direct flights from Sydney Kingsford Smith and Melbourne Tullamarine to London Heathrow by August 2019, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said during the IATA AGM in Seoul.

"Both manufacturers are very eager to do it. We are in discussions with them, we have completed the evaluation of the aircraft we believe will be capable of doing it. There is still no full payload on both aircraft but there is enough, we think, to make it commercially viable. We are issuing a request for offers and the intention is that by August we will have the results of that back. That will get us to the stage when the manufactures will offer pricing and guarantees of performance which we need to make the business case," Joyce said.

He added that while the project represented the "last frontier in aviation" and was very prestigious, Qantas will not launch direct flights to Europe from the two cities unless there is a strong business case.

"Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will come to the conclusion one way or the other. If the business case works, we will place an order for aircraft. Both Airbus and Boeing say delivery would be around 2022-23. But if the business case doesn't work and we don't get the right offer from the manufacturer, we will kill the project," Joyce said.

Joyce said that Qantas was also in discussion with its pilots regarding changes to contracts required to operate direct European services. The airline is also discussing the necessary regulatory amendments with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). It is also already thinking about the on-board product. Joyce clarified that while bunk beds in the cargo hold have been abandoned, the airline was planning to equip the aircraft with a hydration and stretching zone for the economy class passengers. The aircraft would be equipped with four-class seating, although Joyce admitted that European services would not carry any cargo and would have a restricted number of passengers.

Qantas is not limiting Project Sunrise to services from Sydney and Melbourne to London. Joyce said that the airline will also evaluate services to Paris CDG and potentially to Frankfurt Int'l in Europe, although traffic to Germany is much smaller. The airline is also planning to launch services to Paris from Perth Int'l once the disagreement with the airport over fees is ended. However, other European routes, such as to Frankfurt, would only be launched directly from the Australian East Coast and not from Perth or with a stopover.

"The other markets for Sunrise are obviously New York, Chicago O'Hare, and maybe another point on the US East Coast. It would open Brazil, which is a big market which we cannot do non-stop right now. It would also open up more direct flights to Africa. We think there is a lot of markets that would work in this project," Joyce said.

He clarified that Qantas would launch the new ultra-long-haul routes in stages, starting with the London routes.

Joyce also pointed out that Qantas was the only airline in the world which could order a significant number of ultra-long-haul aircraft as there was no other major market which is as remote as Eastern Australia.

Qantas recently confirmed that it was looking to launch services from Brisbane Int'l to Chicago and San Francisco, CA as a part of its tentatively approved joint venture with American Airlines (AA, Dallas/Fort Worth). Joyce clarified that the carrier would launch these routes with its existing fleet and would not need Project Sunrise aircraft for that.