Explained: Qantas tests longest commercial flight

Mehr Gill
The world’s longest commercial airplane journey had 50 passengers and crew on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the 16,200-kilometre (10,066-mile) journey. (Bloomberg)

QF7879, a Qantas Airways aircraft flying from New York to Sydney, has just landed after a historic non-stop test flight that lasted 19 hours and 16 minutes. The world’s longest commercial airplane journey had 50 passengers and crew on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the 16,200-kilometre (10,066-mile) journey.

Project Sunrise

Qantas has announced three long-haul flights as part of its Project Sunrise that aims to fulfil its goal of running non-stop commercial flights on a regular basis from the east coast of Australia to London and New York.

For these three flights, the airlines will use the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. Additionally, the flights will have no more than 40 people on board, including the crew in order to minimise the weight and give the necessary fuel range. According to a statement released by the airline, the carbon footprint from the flight be “fully offset”.

A final approval for this project is subject to aircraft economics, regulatory approvals and industrial agreements, for which certainty is expected by December this year.

In 1989, a Qantas flight flew non-stop from London to Sydney.

What is the purpose of this flight?

In addition to this flight, Qantas has announced two other long-haul flights for research purposes “to gather new data about inflight passenger and crew health and wellbeing,” it said in a statement. The research is being planned by Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre and Monash University and Alertness CRC, a research program that aims to maximise alertness in the workplace.

The research will be testing for safety, alertness and productivity. During the flight, Qantas employees and some passengers may be fitted with sensors and will take part in different experiences. Through these scientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will be able to analyse the passenger and crew’s sleeping patterns, food and beverage consumption, physical movement, consumption of inflight entertainment, “to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock.”

Passengers undertake synchronized exercises mid-flight. Photographer: Angus Whitley/Bloomberg

On the other hand, researchers from Monash University will work with pilots to record the crew members’ melatonin levels (a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) before, during and after the flight. Additionally, pilots will wear an EEG (electroencephalogram) that will track their brain wave patterns and monitor alertness. “The aim is to establish data to assist in building the optimum work and rest pattern for pilots operating long haul services.”

“For customers, the key will be minimising 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 maximise rest during their down time on these flights.”

The Guardian quoted Qantas captain Sean Golding as saying that the flight was “very successful” from the components of research and distance. “We landed here in Sydney with a comfortable 70 minutes of fuel.”