Qantas has opted for Airbus A350-1000s for its ultra-long Project Sunrise flights - if they go ahead.
While the airline has not placed any aircraft orders, Airbus has come to the party to meet Qantas' strict requirements for flights from Australia's eastern cities and London or New York.
The selection of the A350 is a blow for Boeing, which had been trying to sell Qantas its 777X aircraft which is being designed to fly on ultra-long routes. That plane is still under development while the A350 has been flying in airlines for two years.
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This aircraft uses the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine and Airbus will add an additional fuel tank and slightly increase the maximum takeoff weight to deliver the performance required for Sunrise routes. Qantas could order up to 12 of the planes which have a list price of about $550 million.
The standard model A350-1000 is being flown to Auckland this summer by Cathay Pacific. Project Sunrise has been on the drawing board for Qantas for several years and a final go/no go decisionwill now take place in March next year.
The airline had earlier been working to make the final call by the end of this year.
The airline has run three trial flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Last month its London-Sydney trial flight with 62 passengers and crew on board took 19 hours and 19 minutes and some flights would take in excess of 20 hours.
Qantas group chief executive Alan Joyce said the national carrier's support for Project Sunrise was stronger than ever, particularly after the success of recent "dry run" research flights.
"Between the research flights and what we've learned from two years of flying Perth to London, we have a lot of confidence in the market for direct services like New York and London to the east coast of Australia.''
He said the deal on the table with Airbus gives Qantas the best possible combination of commercial terms, fuel efficiency, operating cost and customer experience.
"The aircraft and engine combination is next-generation technology but it's thoroughly proven after more than two years in service. This is the right choice for the Sunrise missions and it also has the right economics to do other long haul routes if we want it to.''
The airline still has to finalise the business case and that hinges on a deal with pilots.
"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.''
Industrial negotiations with representatives for Qantas pilots, the Australian and International Pilots Association are continuing.
Qantas says it has put forward a number of suggestions on how the gap might be closed while still offering 3 per cent annual pay increases and promotional opportunities to its long haul pilots.
The airline wants to use the same pilots across its A350 Sunrise aircraft and the airline's existing fleet of Airbus A330s.
Joyce said that from the outset it had 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.''
He said Airbus had given Qantas an extra month to lock in an aircraft order without impacting the planned start date, in the first half of 2023, and that meant it had more time to ''hopefully'' reach a deal with pilots.
They are reportedly wary about making the same sorts of concessions they did to fly the Perth-London route which started last March.
Today the association said it believed the selection of aircraft type will allow a complex negotiation to focus on specific areas of concern for pilots.
The pilots say they gave 30 per cent productivity improvements for the acquisition of 787-9 aircraft in 2015.
''We have always looked to outcomes that can benefit both pilots and Qantas. So far in this negotiation we have not yet struck that balance of outcomes, so we continue to discuss matters with Qantas,'' says the association says.
Vice presidend of AIPA Brad Hodson said the'' lack of any public and transparent position from the regulatory body CASA on Sunrise flying makes an already complex negotiation more difficult particularly when it comes to fatigue and safety concerns.''
Joyce said it was a tough choice between two very capable aircraft, made even harder by innovation from both manufacturers to improve on what they had already spent years designing.
The airline says design of the ''customer experience'' for flights up to 21 hours continues, including new cabins.
While it shelved early thoughts about sleeping pods in the belly of the plane, research flights have underscored the importance of dedicated space for stretching and movement for economy passengers in particular, as well as the potential benefits from redesigning the service on board to actively shift people to their destination time zone.
An example of this was London test flight passengers being served supper for breakfast.
Ultra-long-range flying is popular with passengers who want to avoid the hassle and extra time of stopovers at airports.
Air New Zealand has already committed to commercial flights from Auckland to New York with its non-stop flights starting next October.