Direct Australia-to-London flights are just around the corner

As new and ever longer-range aircraft appear in the skies, and airlines ratchet up the stakes as they compete for world's-longest-flight crown, the possibility of a non-stop flight from Australia to Europe is just over the horizon.

Until earlier in October the record holder for long distance flights was Emirates with its service between Dubai and Auckland. Covering 14,193 kms and using an Airbus A380 aircraft the flight takes 17 hours and 15 minutes. However Air India just pulled a fast one. By reversing the direction of its Delhi-San Francisco flight to travel over the Pacific rather than the Atlantic the airline added 1400 kms to the route, soaring into first place with a 15,300 km whopper. This also pips Qatar Airways plans to become the title holder with its 14,536 km Doha-Auckland service scheduled to commence next February.

Expect more action in the see-you-raise-you poker game for the world's longest air route. Singapore Airlines, the first airline to take delivery of the first Airbus A350-900 ULR (Ultra Long Range) variant in 2018, is proposing to use the aircraft to re-start its Singapore-New York service, a route it abandoned in 2013 when it operated A340-500 aircraft on that sector.

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Singapore to New York is 16,600 kms, which pretty much blows everyone else out of the water.  Flight time on the A350-900 ULR aircraft will be between 18-19 hours, but that's not the only long-legged aircraft in the skies. Boeing's own marathon runner, the 777-200LR has a range of 17,600 km. In operation for a decade, this is the aircraft that Qatar Airways is proposing to fly on its Doha-Auckland service.

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The Boeing 777-200LR brings non-stop flights from east coast Australia to London within range, although the safety margin is slim. However Melbourne to Paris is 16,780kms. Sydney to Paris is 16,950, so not too much further than Singapore-New York. Both the long-range Airbus and Boeing aircraft would make a non-stop flight from Australia's east coast cities to Rome, Athens and Istanbul a realistic proposition. Both the Airbus A350-900 ULR and the Boeing 777-200LR aircraft also have extended ETOPS certification, almost six hours in the case of the Boeing and slightly longer for the Airbus. This means they are approved to fly on a single engine for that length of time from the nearest suitable airport that could be used as an alternative destination in the event of an emergency. This is about twice the ETOPS rating of most other twin-engine aircraft. In effect, this means flying long, overwater routes far from airports that could be used in an emergency is not an issue. This extended ETOPS rating also facilitates the use of optimised routes, those determined to be faster and requiring less fuel than a great circle route, the shortest route between two points on the globe.

Perth to London is 14,470 kms, well within reach of either aircraft, shorter than Air India's Delhi-San Francisco flight and much shorter than Singapore Airlines' Singapore-New York service.

Qantas is considering a Perth-London service when it takes delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 aircraft in 2017. The aircraft has a range of 15,190 kms so there's no problem with the point-to-point distance, however there is another obstacle with the London-Perth sector. If the aircraft was unable to land at Perth's International Airport for any reason, the nearest airports which it could divert to are at Learmonth, 1000 kilometres away, and Adelaide, which is over 2000 kilometres distant.

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