Qantas boss Alan Joyce has confirmed the airline will decide by the end of this year whether to buy new ultra-long haul aircraft that can connect Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York non-stop, but has binned plans to fit the planes out with gyms, children's play areas and bunk beds.
Mr Joyce said on Monday that he expected Boeing and Airbus to each submit a "best and final offer" by August for a potential multibillion-dollar order of jets to complete Qantas' "Project Sunrise".
Airbus is pitching its A350 up against Boeing's new 777X to operate the journeys of up to 21 hours, which could start in late 2022 and become the world's longest flights.
“We met in the last two days with both the senior executives of Boeing and Airbus … and we had very good discussion with both of them," Mr Joyce said on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association's AGM in Seoul.
"Both are very keen to win this.”
However Mr Joyce said some of the original ambitions of the project had been scaled back, including that the flights will not operate with a full cabin of passengers, to remove the weight required for the planes to fly so far.
There will be four, newly designed cabin classes - economy, premium economy, business and first - unlike Qantas' Boeing Dreamliners that fly Perth-London non-stop which do not have a first class.
Qantas had earlier explored using space in the jets' undercarriage to build children's play areas, bar and offices, and even install bunk-beds for economy passengers to sleep in.
But working through the business case for the flights, Mr Joyce said Qantas had discovered that "putting stuff in the baggage hold ... doesn’t work".
However yet-to-be revealed cabin designs do include a more modest exercise zone for economy passengers to stretch their legs on the marathon flights.
"We are, on the aircraft, looking at a zone that we’re calling the ‘fourth zone’, for people to stretch and exercise and hydrate," he said.
"And that will be part of the product that we use to launch.”
Along with prices from Airbus and Boeing, Qantas' decision hinges on negotiating a new pay deal for pilots, and changing flight safety rules to allows them to fly longer sectors.
With a number of other important projects for Qantas to get on with, including replacing its ageing domestic fleet, Mr Joyce said the Sunrise project would come to a conclusion by the end of the year “one way or another”.
And said he wasn't afraid to decide against the project, despite the hype and global media attention it had attracted.
"It is shareholders’ money and it’s going to be billions of dollars," he said.
“You have to know when to say no. If the business case doesn’t work ... we will be ruthless and we will kill the project."
On pay negotiations, Mr Joyce said pilots knew that Sunrise flights would open up opportunities for promotions and grow the airline.
The easiest thing Qantas could do was to give the money it would spend on Sunrise to shareholders through buybacks instead, he said. The airline has returned more than $3 billion to investors through dividends and buybacks since 2015.
The aircraft manufacturer's final offers expected in August will include order prices, and guarantees around aircraft performance, maintenance costs and reliability.
Mr Joyce said he would seek incentives from airports and state governments to help decide which possible route it would launch Sunrise with, with Sydney and Melbourne the leading Australian contenders, while London and New York are the top international destinations.
Qantas was still interested in launching a Perth-Paris service but would not commit to buying the new Dreamliners required while it was still in dispute with Perth Airport over service fees.
Paris would be another potential destination from Australia's east coast if it buys A350s or 777Xs, along with Frankfurt and Chicago, Mr Joyce said.