Despite Qantas’s long-cherished ambition to become the first airline to operate the world’s longest non-stop air route between Australia and Europe, it is expected to be beaten to the prize in the next three years by the world’s fastest-growing carrier, Turkish Airlines.
From its base in Istanbul – the eastern-most point of the European continent* – Turkish will launch its first service to Sydney in 2014, according to its current plans. But the service will initially have a stop in Asia before later becoming non-stop as the airline acquires aircraft designed to do such ultra-long-haul services.
It would be the longest commercial air service in the world – although that honour is currently held by Singapore Airlines’ six-days-a-week service from Singapore to New York Newark airport 8285 nautical miles (15, 544 kilometres) away, which takes just under 19 hours.
With rising fuel prices and falling “yields” (average fares), that all-business-class service with just 100 seats in an Airbus A340-500 airliner that normally seats up to 300 people will be discontinued later this yearmaking Qantas' Sydney-Dallas flights the world's longest haul. Airbus no longer builds the A340.
By comparison, Istanbul-Sydney is 8076 nautical miles (14,956 kilometres). The only current-production airliner that can do the trip is the 250-300-seat Boeing 777-200LR (LR for long range) – the plane that Qatar Airways currently uses for its daily services from Melbourne and Perth to Doha. Turkish has a shorter-range, larger version of the same plane, the 777-300ER (used by Virgin Australia for services to the US), which is expected to be used for the initial service to Sydney via a stop in Asia.
The advantage for Australians heading to Europe is that Turkish Airlines’ base in Istanbul is within easy Boeing 737/Airbus A320 range of every European city. The carrier has around 50 cities in its European network, which would put even more Euro destinations within one stop of Sydney when the non-stop goes online in two or three years.
That’s many more fast connections from Sydney than the rapidly expanding Arabian Gulf airlines currently have because they are forced to use bigger planes to Europe, which means diminished frequencies.
Turkish Airlines chief executive Temel Kotil said last week the carrier’s fast growth rate is expected to continue for several years. “By 2020, we are going to transport 100 million passengers, offering 2,000 flights per day,” he told Air Transport World.
“We receive a new aircraft nearly every day,” Kotil said, adding the airline is expecting a 30% passenger growth rate this year.
He said the airline’s first flights to Australia, beginning in 2014, couldn’t start earlier due to a shortage of aircraft.
In 1989, as the government-owned Australian national carrier, Qantas operated a demonstration flight from London’s Heathrow airport to Sydney, using a new Boeing 747-400 being delivered via Europe from the factory in Seattle, USA.
The flight took 20 hours and 10 minutes using special fuel and slower-than-normal air speed to get the ultra-long-journey of 9188 nautical miles (17,016 kilometres), although the flight covered an extra 1000 kilometres for operational reasons.
Qantas is still working with Boeing to develop a version of the 777 that can fly an economical payload of passengers on the route in a regular commercial service taking as little as 19 hours from Heathrow to Sydney.
In the meantime, Qantas operate the world’s longest Boeing 747-400 non-stop service daily from Sydney to Dallas, USA, 7454 nautical miles (13,804 kilometres) away, although the return service operates via Brisbane because westerly headwinds put Sydney beyond the plane’s range.
Would you opt for Turkish Airlines in order to reach European destinations faster? Have you flown Turkish Airlines? What is your assessment of the in-flight standards and seating comfort? Would you sit in a plane for 18 hours or more to get to Europe non-stop? Would you rather break the journey in Asia or the Middle East? Post your comments below.
* The Bosphorus - the strait that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean just east of Istanbul - is thought of as the easternmost point of the European continent, though, by some accounts, it may be Russia's Ural Mountains. But please don't get sidetracked by debating this point in the comments - stick to the main topic as outlined above.
UPDATE 04/06/13: Turkish Airlines says its European network now has 85 destinations with the addition of six cities in June - Marseille (France), Constanta (Romania), Tallinn (Estonia), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Luxembourg, following the addition of Al-Qassim (Saudi Arabia).