Australian airline Qantas has announced that it will be conducting three research flights to study the effects of ultra-long-haul routes on passengers and flight crew. The flights will make use of planned deliveries of three new Boeing 787-9s, which would typically be flown empty from Boeing’s facility in Seattle, Washington, to Australia. Instead of going direct, two aircraft will be flown to New York and one to London, after which they will fly nonstop to Sydney, Australia, to simulate the 19-plus-hour routes that Qantas is hoping to open under the title Project Sunrise.
To make the distance, each flight will carry a maximum of 40 people—primarily airline employees. According to Qantas, those traveling in the cabin will be outfitted with “wearable technology devices” while medical experts from Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement and inflight entertainment to “assess impact on health, well-being and body clock.” The pilots will be wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) devices, which will track brain wave patterns and alertness. That part of the study will be conducted by researchers from Melbourne-based Monash University.
“Ultra-long-haul flying presents a lot of common-sense questions about the comfort and well-being of passengers and crew,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. “These flights are going to provide invaluable data to help answer them.” Data from the flights will be used to inform health and well-being plans—including crew work-and-rest rotations—for Project Sunrise, which was announced in 2017 with the goal of opening regular, nonstop commercial routes from the east coast of Australia to ultra-long-haul destinations including London and New York. The research flights are scheduled to take place in October, November and December.
The airline has not yet selected an aircraft for Project Sunrise, with both Boeing and Airbus looking to develop the right vehicle for the job. Boeing’s recently delayed 777-8 and an ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350 are under consideration. Qantas is expected to announce its choice by the end of the year.