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The flying leap of Qantas’s new Kangaroo Route

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce tells the story of Hudson Fysh, one of the founders of Qantas, who in 1931 said, “By 2031 … one may be seated in a bullet-shaped vehicle awaiting departure on a trip to London, occupying a little over half a day.” Yesterday evening, on Saturday March 24, 2018, around 236 passengers did just that when QF9, taxied down the runway at Perth airport to take off for the first non-stop passenger flight to London — expected duration 17 hours and 20 minutes.

“It seems we are 13 years ahead of schedule!” said Joyce.

Passengers and guests in the terminal cheered the historic take-off . The Qantas CEO thanked the people of WA, “especially the State government and Perth Airport”, the Federal Government, Boeing, General Electric and most especially his dedicated staff for their work in realising a milestone for Australian aviation.

In late 2016 when Qantas first announced its intention to fly Dreamliners on a non-stop route between Australia and London’s Heathrow Airport, Joyce said, “This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft.”

The Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service began in 1920, with a fleet of two Avro 504s, a biplane used in World War I which could fly for two hours at most without refuelling. Qantas’s famous Kangaroo Route to London began in 1947, flying Lockheed Constellation aircraft which took more than four days and seven stops to arrive at their destination… Today’s familiar Airbus A380 carries up to 484 passengers on 24-hour flights via Singapore to London.

Technology has made the unbroken Perth-London flight, the third-longest commercial flight in the world, not only possible, but viable. The lighter body of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner — 50% of which consists of advanced composite materials — its pioneering GEnx engines and advanced onboard systems, add up to 20% lower fuel consumption than other similarly sized aircraft.

Says Max York, CEO of GE Australia, who participated in the celebrations, “The path to this point in the evolution of the Kangaroo Route is a fantastic story, and we’re proud to have contributed. It shows the ability of advanced propulsion technologies like composites and fuel-efficient combustion systems and turbines to revolutionise an industry.”

These advanced technologies, developed and tested over years at GE laboratories, have allowed GE Aviation’s jet-engine-design team to reduce the engine weight by more than 180 kilos. “The efficiencies achieved through the GEnx engine can save Qantas and other airlines up to US$1.6 million per aircraft in fuel costs each year,” says York.

The GEnx’s innovative combustor is not only fuel efficient—it also produces fewer emissions than previous engines in its class. The engines run 40% more quietly than previous technology and the turbulence- and vibration-smoothing systems on the Boeing 787 mean that its ride tends toward glide.

“All Australians can be proud about a business born in this country, running breakthrough technology, on an historic flight.” Keren Rambow, GE Aviation

For all the cost efficiency of GEnx engines, Qantas cabin design in the Dreamliner offers passengers a beautiful experience.

“It’s the most luxurious aircraft I’ve ever experienced,” says Keren Rambow, head of GE Aviation in the South Asia Pacific, whose titanium frequent-flyer status across the aerospace industry gives her an uncommonly informed perspective.

The Qantas Dreamliner interior feels spacious with windows 65% larger than on comparable aircraft, and inbuilt lighting control means they require no view-restricting blinds.

“When we designed the interior of our 787s, we wanted to make sure passengers would be comfortable on the extended missions the aircraft was capable of,” Joyce has said. To that end the airline also included features in its Economy seating that other airlines reserve for Premium Economy.

Where other airlines have configured the same aircraft to carry more than 300 passengers, Qantas Dreamliners have a total seat count of 236. And where most aircraft fly with a cabin pressure equivalent to that of an altitude of 2,500 metres, for the Dreamliner Boeing reduced that to 1,800 metres — which feels to passengers more like conditions on the ground.

Subtly adding to the comfort factor, inflight menus have been especially designed for the long haul by chef Neil Perry in collaboration with scientists and nutritionists from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre. They’ll help passengers maintain hydration, sleep well and arrive feeling less jet lagged.

“It’s thrilling for aviation,” says Rambow, of being able to reach Europe in a single, effortless bound. “I thought it was exciting when the Australian Defence Force got the Super Hornets — it was a huge capability leap. This is the commercial equivalent. It’s a proud achievement for Australia and it’s great for Perth.”

One in four British tourists to Australia already visits WA. A $5.7 million marketing agreement between Qantas and the Western Australian State Government aims to grow those numbers and deepen ties between the West, and the UK and Europe. The campaigns so far have included London’s Underground passengers being invited to “Wake Up in Western Australia”, and a pop-up opportunity for Londoners to experience WA using virtual-reality headsets.

Joyce says that the direct flight “makes travelling to Australia a much more attractive proposition to millions of people. We expect many travellers from Europe will start their time in Australia with a visit to Perth before going on to see other parts of the country.”

In advance of yesterday’s inaugural Perth-London flight, Joyce said, “We’re very happy that the excitement about non-stop services is so widely shared … After all, this is the flight that Qantas has essentially waited most of its 98 years to take.”

Above: The Dreamliner flying the Perth-to-London route is named Emily after the indigenous Australian artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye. The plane’s livery was inspired by her artwork. Image credit: Qantas.

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