The future of world's longest flights: The most likely ultra long-haul routes

Sydney to New York is 8642 nautical miles (16,004 kilometres). Should Qantas' much hyped Project Sunrise, the non-stop flights between the two cities, come to fruition, it would shade the world's longest existing non-stop passenger flight, the 8287-nautical-mile flight between Singapore and New York.

What other non-stop long-haul routes are there that could make sense?

UK-based airline industry analyst OAG has done the numbers and come up with a list of the top unserviced air travel routes as measured by passenger numbers.

In first place, the route between Los Angeles (LAX) and Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) gets close to 300,000 travellers per annum, and non-stop flights between the two could soon become a reality. Back in September 2019 Vietnam Airlines was finally granted regulatory approval to fly to the US. Their licence includes the right to operate to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Dallas, according to a regulatory filing from the US Department of Transportation.

Distance between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City is 7097 nautical miles according to the GPS Visualizer Great Circle mapper. That puts them well within the range of the Airbus A350-900s that Vietnam Airlines operates.

Bamboo Airways, Vietnam's newest airline, has also expressed interest in flights to the US and so has budget carrier VietJet. Bamboo Airways currently operates two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with many more on order, another aircraft that could easily make the leap to LA in a single bound, underlining the airline's long-haul ambitions. For both Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo, the only real question here is whether enough of those almost-300,000 flyers are prepared to pay the premium price of a non-stop flight.

In second place is another route from Los Angeles to another South-East Asian city, in this case Bangkok. This route sees passenger traffic in excess of 250,000 per annum and, at 7186 nautical miles, just a slightly greater distance than the LAX-SGN route. While this must be a tempting proposition for Thai Airways, at the moment the airline does not have Department of Transport approval to operate flights to the US.

Supplied PR image for Traveller. OAG map on the world's longest unserved routes for Michael Gebicki column.

Several of the most popular unserved routes are from Australia. Map: OAG

Further down the OAG list of most popular unserviced routes, Paris to Bali's Denpasar sees around 150,000 travellers per annum, and the 6686 nautical miles between them is no great leap for several aircraft types from both Airbus and Boeing. However, Singapore Airlines operates a one-stop flight between Denpasar and Paris, and that might prove a tough competitor for Garuda or Air France were they to introduce a non-stop flight on the same route.

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In ninth place on the OAG list is a surprise. Beirut to Sydney gets slightly more than 100,000 passengers per year. The distance between the two is 7656 nautical miles. That puts it within the range of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as well as the Airbus A350-900. However, there are already several Middle Eastern carriers operating one-stop flights on this route and that's going to blunt the ambitions of any non-stop competitor, as well as a shortage of potential candidates who might be tempted to offer a non-stop service on this route.

The top unserved routes, according to OAG

  1. Los Angeles - Ho Chi Minh
  2. Bangkok - Los Angeles
  3. Brisbane - London
  4. San Francisco - Ho Chi Minh
  5. Dhaka - New York City
  6. Paris - Denparsar
  7. Bangkok - New York City
  8. Beirut - Sydney
  9. Paris - Sydney
  10.  

Non-stop routes from Australia we'd like to see

Melbourne to Nairobi. At the moment the only airline operating a non-stop flight between Australia and Africa is the Qantas service between Sydney and Johannesburg. Johannesburg is not the best port of entry for travellers looking to tackle the safari experience – the reason that draws most travellers to southern Africa. Nairobi, on the other hand, at 6205 nautical miles from Melbourne, puts wildlife watchers close to the heart of the action and within easy driving distance of Tsavo East National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve and Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.

Sydney to Buenos Aires is 6382 nautical miles. Aerolineas Argentinas operates a one-stop flight on this route via Auckland. The alternative is a non-stop flight to Santiago with Qantas with onward connections to BA, but for travellers whose destination is Buenos Aires, the requirement to stop either in Auckland or Santiago comes with a nuisance factor, since Auckland to Sydney is a 3½-hour flight while Santiago to BA is barely two hours.

Melbourne to Mumbai is 5289 nautical miles. That hardly qualifies as a long-haul route in the current context but the number of travellers is impressive. In the year ending 30 June 2019, 362,400 residents of India visited Australia, an increase of 8 per cent over the previous year. Over the same period the number of Australians visiting India rose by 7 per cent. Given those numbers, it's surprising that the only airline operating a non-stop service between any Australian city and India is national carrier Air India, which flies to Delhi, and that's not exactly hot-blooded competition.

The case against non-stop long-haul routes

A significant number of passengers looking to fly between two distant cities, and aircraft capable of going the distance, do not guarantee success for any airline operating a non-stop flight on that route. Longer distances mean a higher fuel load and that can impact on passenger numbers.

They might also require additional crew to comply with regulations and both those factors mean higher ticket prices compared with the price of a one-stop flight, as reflected by the higher price you typically pay for Qantas' non-stop flights to London versus a one-stop flight on the same route via Singapore or Dubai. The challenge is attracting enough passengers prepared to pay a premium price for a non-stop flight, and endure the discomfort that entails, when that flight is probably just a few hours quicker than the fastest one-stop flight on the same route.

See also: Qantas' non-stop London to Sydney flight ready for take off

See also: Hour by hour: My epic trip on board the world's longest flight

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