With much fanfare, Qantas has just announced a non-stop Perth to London service to commence in March 2018. This is the first non-stop commercial flight between Australia and London.
"This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft," said Alan Joyce, Qantas Group CEO, when he broke the news. "Australians have never had a direct link to Europe before, so the opportunities this opens up are huge."
It's all that and more, a fresh iteration of one of the world's classic long distance air routes, one that dates back to 1947 when Qantas began operating the Kangaroo Route to London. In those days the trip took four days, with nine stops. The new service will slash that to 17 hours.
Flying the route will be Qantas' brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with the first of the airline's Dreamliners scheduled to touch down on Australian tarmac in October 2017, with plans to start the aircraft on the Melbourne to LA route.
Perth to London will be the world's longest flight aboard a Boeing Dreamliner.
This is likely to be a big winner for flyers originating from Perth, provided London is their destination rather than Barcelona, Paris, Rome or Frankfurt, provided they don't mind a 17-hour flight and also provided that the cost of the new non-stop flight is more attractive than current services via Dubai. Prices will be revealed when seats for the Perth-London service go on sale in April 2017, 11 months before the inaugural flight.
Qantas is also hoping that the service will generate keen interest from the opposite end of the planet.
According to Joyce, "A 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."
The airline is also banking on an upswell of demand from east-coast flyers bound for London.
"Our modelling shows that people from the east coast as well as South Australia would fly domestically to Perth to connect to our non-stop London service. Some will take the opportunity to break their journey, whether it's for business meetings in Perth, to holiday or to visit family."
If he's right this would put the Perth-London service on steroids, but it's a questionable proposition. For travellers from Melbourne, taking the new Qantas service to London would require a four-hour flight to Perth. From Sydney it's five hours.
Qantas is aiming to dovetail its London service with flights to and from the east coast capitals to minimise layover times. If the connecting time between the two flights is around 90-120 minutes, that would make this a quicker route to London for east coast flyers, but not by much.
Just as questionable is the appeal of Perth as a stopover alongside alternatives such as Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok or the two United Arab Emirates states whose airlines serve Australian ports. Finally, a layover with a 17-hour flight at the back end is not exactly a restful notion.
The real game changer would be a non-stop service catering to the big, wealthy and travel hungry populations of east coast Australia heading for Europe, but such a service is still beyond the horizon. Melbourne to Paris is 16,800 kms, Sydney to Paris is 16,950 kms. That's a stretch too far even for such long-legged aircraft as the Airbus A350-900 ULR (Ultra Long Range) variant, with its 16,100km range.
One potential problem Joyce did not address concerns the Dreamliner's operating capabilities. According to Boeing the 787-9 has a range of 15,400 km. Qantas puts the distance between Perth and London at 14,498 km, which gives the aircraft a 900-kilometre safety buffer. If the aircraft was unable to land at London Heathrow and had to divert to another airfield there are several to choose from within its operating range.
Flying from London to Perth it's another story. If the aircraft was unable to land at Perth the closest airfields capable of handling the Dreamliner are at Learmonth, 1097kms away, or Adelaide, which is 2117kms distant. Perth is rarely shut down by bad weather but if that were to happen when a Dreamliner from London was approaching from over the Indian Ocean, the expression "a wing and a prayer" might spring to mind.