Boeing Co. and Airbus SE are locked in battle to provide Qantas Airways Ltd. with a plane to allow the Australian carrier to fly ultra-long range routes and connect cities such as Sydney with New York and London, Qantas Airways's chief executive said.
Qantas this year challenged the plane makers to devise an aircraft that could make such non-stop flights carrying a full complement of passengers and cargo starting in 2022. "We have gotten a great reception from both manufacturers," Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said.
Boeing and Airbus are already building planes that can stay aloft for long durations and fly further than 9,000 miles. But Mr. Joyce said "more work is needed" by both to get the designs to a performance Qantas requires.
Qantas is widely seen as a marquee airline buyer so its endorsement could attract other plane buyers. Both plane makers are exploring how to modify existing designs, such as the Boeing 777-8X and Airbus A350, rather than building brand new models for what is a niche application.
Airbus said its A350 had potential for "incremental innovation" that would allow it to make the Sydney-New York and Sydney-London routes possible. Boeing said it, too, was looking at how to meet the airline's requirements.
Mr. Joyce said the airline would spend much of next year evaluating the Airbus and Boeing concepts. If the ideas prove promising, the airline could run a formal competition starting late next year that could lead to a plane order in 2019, he said. Mr. Joyce wouldn't say how many planes he planned to buy.
Both plane makers have told Qantas they are reserving some production slots around 2022 if the airline wants planes at that time, Mr. Joyce said late Monday after a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
Qantas flies directly to the U.S. west coast, but passengers need to connect to reach the east coast. The airline next year will fly to London directly from Perth, on Australia's west coast, using Boeing 787 Dreamliners on 17 hour flights.
Qantas wants planes, though, that can link London or New York with Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane which are out of the reach of current planes with full passenger numbers.
Mr. Joyce acknowledged that the ultra-long range planes would serve only a few markets that also have strong business class demand. For many of its other flights to European cities, Qantas would continue to cooperate with Emirates Airline, the world's largest by international traffic, and funnel passengers via the Middle East partner's Dubai hub.
Mr. Joyce also said big twin-engine planes were the future of long-range flights. Qantas is unlikely to take delivery of the remaining four-engine Airbus A380 superjumbos the airline had ordered, he said. The carrier, which has ordered 20 A380s but taken delivery only of 12, has previously expressed skepticism about taking more of the planes. Mr. Joyce said newer twin-engine planes were cheaper to operate and less risky.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 29, 2017 06:12 ET (11:12 GMT)