Qantas is considering a larger version of the Airbus SE A350 as the European jetmaker and Boeing vie to connect Sydney and London in a non-stop 20-hour flight by 2022, the airline's CEO said.
The airline's selection process for what would be the world's longest commercial flight has advanced to the request for proposal stage with a purchase decision due next year, CEO Alan Joyce said after Qantas reported a record annual profit on Thursday.
Qantas had been eyeing the A350-900ULR that rival Singapore Airlines will use to relaunch flights from Singapore to New York this year. It is still considering the Boeing 777-8, which has a higher seating capacity.
Airbus said in June it could look to develop an ultra-long range version of the larger A350-1000 that might suit Qantas, which has set a goal of 300 passenger seats on London flights, including an economy class offering.
Joyce said on Thursday the A350-1000 was the only Airbus jet that remained in contention for the Sydney-London mission, although the airline could combine that with orders for A350-900s for other routes if it selected the Airbus option.
Airbus modified the A350-900's fuel system, without adding extra tanks, to allow it to carry extra fuel for long-range missions on the A350-900ULR.
To gain more carrying capacity for an A350-1000ULR, the manufacturer could add extra tanks, Joyce said, although he added that choice had not been "locked in" at this stage.
An Airbus spokesman declined to comment.
Joyce said Qantas was seeking more details from Boeing on the weight of the 777-8, which has not yet entered production, but added he was confident both manufacturers could meet the range challenges.
"We do believe we are at a stage where the capability for both vehicles is there and is a matter of the financials and working through how the business case works," he said.
However, he said the new service, due to its unprecedented length, would still need approvals from regulators and pilot unions.
Qantas in March launched the Perth-London route, the first non-stop flights between Australia and Europe.
The performance to date on that route, combined with shifting the Sydney-London flight's current stopover to Singapore from Dubai, has been strong, Joyce told analysts on Thursday.
"That has turned around the economics of London - London is back in profit," he said.