Passengers were preparing for the first direct flight between Australia and London on Saturday, passing a major milestone by reducing to 17 hours a trip that once took 12 1/2 days.
The 9,000-mile flight from Perth, one of the world’s most isolated cities, marks the first direct passenger service between the continents.
Qantas Airways’ inaugural service between the Australian city of Perth and Heathrow will touch down in London at 5.05am on Sunday before departing for the return trip at 1.15pm that afternoon.
Passengers will be on board the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft for 17 hours as they make the 9,009-mile journey.
This is 24% further than the UK’s existing longest route of 7,275 miles, operated by Garuda Indonesia between Heathrow and Jakarta.
The new link with Perth will be around three hours quicker than routes which involve stopping in the Middle East to change planes or refuel.
It will also enable faster journeys to Sydney and Melbourne than flying via Dubai.
Travel firm Flight Centre has recorded “high demand” for the new Qantas flights.
Its head of aviation, Justin Penny, said: “Flight Centre definitely feels that long-term the new route is viable and we will see additional services being launched from Europe to Australia in the coming years.”
Lisa Norman, the flight’s captain, said “we have been working towards (this) for the past three years and it’s very exciting”.
“When I joined Qantas not in my wildest imagination would I have thought this possible,” she told the West Australian.
Capt. Norman says she will be “absolutely exhilarated” when the plane touches down in London.
“It’s like when a painter puts the final brush stroke on the work.”
Aviation consultant John Strickland said the launch of the flights was a significant moment for the airline industry.
He told the Press Association: “It will be a further test of how successful airlines can be with ultra long-haul flying and whether this delivers sufficient profitability to justify the investment in aircraft.
“Qantas will certainly be hoping to attract a higher proportion of premium customers due to the speed advantage combined with the 787’s better cabin atmosphere.”
The Dreamliners on the Perth-Heathrow route will have 42 business class flat-bed seats, 28 premium economy seats and 166 economy seats.
The aircraft boasts a number of advantages over other models, including lower cabin noise, larger windows, improved air quality and technology to reduce turbulence.
They are also heralded for their fuel efficiency, although the impact of this will be reduced by the weight of the fuel needed to fly between the UK and Australia without stopping.
The world’s longest regular passenger flight is operated by Qatar Airways between Doha and Auckland, at 9,025 miles.
For Qantas, the Perth connection is a high-profile test for a planned ultra long-haul network that the airline hopes will span the world by 2022.
“You have the resources sector on both sides, you have banks, you have lawyers that all want to fly fast and reliably and comfortably,”’ said Rico Merkert, professor of transport and supply-chain management at the University of Sydney’s business school. “And I think they’re prepared to pay the premium.”
Mining companies in Western Australia dig up more than a third of the world’s iron-ore and bring in some of the largest hauls of gems and rare earths. The sector also supports financial-services firms such as Hartleys Ltd., whose Perth-based director of corporate finance Steve Kite is booked on Sunday’s flight — the second in the new service to London — for just a four-day trip.
“It’s effectively an overnight flight for me and that feels like I’m saving a lot of time,” Mr Kite said.
Not everyone is convinced of the route’s commercial future.
Aircraft leaving Perth for London will need feeder passengers from around Australia, said Volodymyr Bilotkach, author of the book “The Economics of Airlines.” But flying from Sydney to London via Perth saves little time over a transfer in Asia or the Gulf, he said.
Andrew McGinnes, a spokesman for Qantas in Sydney, said bookings on the new route “have been strong” and corporate clients in eastern Australia have indicated they’ll stop in Perth for meetings on their way to London. “It’s a very competitive market but this is a unique flight,” Mr McGinnes said.
An analysis of flight times and prices highlights the challenges Qantas faces.
Flying business class from Perth to London with Qantas in mid-June would cost A$6,614 (£3,600). Opting for Singapore Airlines via Singapore would take an extra 2 1/2 hours but cost just A$4,843 (£2,600), according to fares on Webjet.
Qantas has challenged Boeing and Airbus to build a jet by 2022 that can fly fully loaded from Sydney to London without a break. Success on the Perth-London service would lay the foundations for even longer routes to Europe.
“It’s really just the beginning,” said Merkert at the University of Sydney.