Clive Dorman reports that Qantas is about to launch into the longest 747 route in the world.
In 1989, just to show off, Qantas demonstrated the phenomenal range of the new-fangled Boeing 747-400 by flying non-stop from London to Sydney in a little more than 20 hours. The trip required special ''high specific gravity'' fuel and there were no passengers as they would have made the plane too heavy to get the 18,000-kilometre range.
More than 21 years of 747-400 service will have passed when Qantas finally gets to use the model's ultra-long range with a full load of passengers 13,804 kilometres non-stop from Sydney to Dallas, Texas, the longest 747 route in the world.
In 2002-03, the airline took delivery of six 747-400ERs, a variety built specially for Qantas to operate the 12,748 kilometres from Melbourne to Los Angeles. This high-weight version will be stretched to the limit for the four weekly Dallas services, which start on May 16.
In fact, the return service will stop in Brisbane on its way back because passengers will have to be offloaded to make the extra 441 kilometres to Sydney.
Qantas has been studying the feasibility of flying to Dallas for years, as it is the world headquarters of Qantas's US codeshare partner, American Airlines.
The Dallas option looked to have finally become a ''no-brainer'' for Qantas when the global financial crisis of 2008-09 decimated business travel and caused massive losses on US routes for the Australian national carrier. At the same time Virgin Blue's V Australia and the US's Delta Air Lines flooded the South Pacific with new seats - a capacity increase of about 30 per cent between Australia and Los Angeles.
''We've always wanted the opportunity to give more choices outside of the [US] west coast,'' the chief executive of Qantas, Alan Joyce, says. With business travel recovering, the airline has had no qualms about killing off its four-weekly Sydney-San Francisco non-stop flights and switching them to Dallas, especially since the global oil industry, a major user of Qantas business travel, is headquartered in nearby Houston.
''A lot of things clicked on this and it made absolute sense for us to devote aircraft resources to this destination,'' Joyce says.
''San Francisco wasn't a great performer at the best of times and, in the midst of the GFC, it did go into losses.''
Joyce points out that Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport, with seven runways, was designed as a major hub airport from the start, unlike LA and other US airports that have grown over the decades. About 59 per cent of travellers using DFW are transiting, according to Qantas.
One of the major attractions is that Qantas will be selling a 70-minute international-to-domestic connection at Dallas, which means that onward services to cities such as New York and Washington with American Airlines are up to two hours faster from Sydney than via the much slower connections in LA.
From Dallas, American Airlines serves a huge array of business and leisure destinations in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.