Qantas successfully completed the first test flight of its incoming Sydney-New York route this past weekend, touching down in Australia after 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air.
A total of 49 passengers and crew were on the flight – the first non-stop commercial airline flight between the two cities - which was used to run a series of experiments to assess health and well-being onboard. Data from these experiments will be used help shape the crew rostering and customer service of Qantas’ ultra long haul flights in future, including the airline’s Project Sunrise initiative - Qantas’ goal to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) to London and New York.
Tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers.
Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted in ways that are expected to help reduce jetlag, according to the medical researchers and scientists who have partnered with Qantas.
Arriving in Sydney, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “This is a really significant first for aviation. Hopefully, it’s a preview of a regular service that will speed up how people travel from one side of the globe to the other. We know ultra long haul flights pose some extra challenges but that’s been true every time technology has allowed us to fly further. The research we’re doing should give us better strategies for improving comfort and wellbeing along the way.
“Night flights usually start with dinner and then lights off. For this flight, we started with lunch and kept the lights on for the first six hours, to match the time of day at our destination. It means you start reducing the jetlag straight away.
Qantas Captain Sean Golding, who led the four pilots operating the service, said: “The flight went really smoothly. Headwinds picked up overnight, which slowed us down to start with, but that was part of our scenario planning. Given how long we were airborne, we were able to keep optimising the flight path to make the best of the conditions.
“Overall, we’re really happy with how the flight went and it’s great have some of the data we need to help assess turning this into a regular service,” added Captain Golding.
Two more research flights are planned as part of the Project Sunrise evaluations – London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December. Emissions from all research flights will be fully offset.
A decision on Project Sunrise is expected by the end of the year.
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