Qantas Airways is testing ultra long-haul 19-hour flights to see how crew, pilots respond

There may soon be a new world’s longest flight, a title currently held by Singapore Airlines’ 9,534-mile Newark to Singapore route, which lasts 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Australian airline Qantas announced Thursday it’s testing out 19-hour nonstop flights from New York and London to Sydney. According to the airline’s press release, its test marks the first-ever direct commercial flight between New York and Sydney and only the second between London and Sydney.

The test flights, christened “Project Sunrise,” are taking advantage of the airline’s new Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which need to be moved from North America to Australia anyway. Instead of flying them from Boeing’s Seattle plant to Sydney, Qantas is flying them from New York and London to the southeastern Australian city.

Qantas is carrying out its nonstop service from New York and London to Sydney on its newly delivered Boeing 787-9 aircraft. (Photo: CARL COURT, AFP/Getty Images)

They’ll carry 40 people – primarily Qantas staff – outfitted with wearable technology devices that will allow researchers from the University of Sydney to monitor their sleep patterns, physical activity, as well as food and beverage intake to measure the effects of ultra-long haul flights on their circadian rhythms.

Qantas also noted that the pilots will wear EEG (electroencephalogram) sensors to track their brain waves so that the researchers and airline can formulate the “optimum work and rest patterns for pilots operating long-haul services.”

“Ultra-long haul flying presents a lot of common sense questions about the comfort and well being of passengers and crew. These flights are going to provide invaluable data to help answer them,” CEO Alan Joyce said in the press release.

Qantas pilot Capt. Lisa Norman and CEO Alan Joyce pose in the cockpit. (Photo: Brent Winstone)

“For customers, the key will be minimizing jet lag and creating an environment where they are looking forward to a restful, enjoyable flight,” he added. “For crew, it’s about using scientific research to determine the best opportunities to promote alertness when they are on duty and maximize rest during their down time on these flights.”

Eventually, the data culled from the test flights will be used to “help shape the cabin design, in-flight service and crew roster patterns for Project Sunrise. We’ll also be looking at how we can use it to improve our existing long-haul flights.”

Qantas is flying Boeing 787s from New York and London to Sydney to study the effect of ultra-long-haul flights on the human body.
USA TODAY

Joyce said the airline would make a decision about whether to pursue the ultra-long-haul flights by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval, business agreements and other economic factors.

“There’s plenty of enthusiasm for Sunrise, but it’s not a foregone conclusion,” he warned. “This is ultimately a business decision and the economics have to stack up.”

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