First non-stop UK-Australia passenger flight announced
THE UK is to be connected non-stop to Australia - but not until March 2018.
As The Independent predicted, Qantas will fly from Heathrow to Perth using the latest Boeing 787-9 jet.
The airline claims the journey of 9,010 miles will take 17 hours from Western Australia to London. In practice the plane is likely to fly further and take longer because of the need to avoid airspace perceived as dangerous.
The most direct route from Perth to London crosses the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, follows the western coast of India, and passes over Iran, the Caucasus and the disputed Crimea region.
When Qantas created the "Kangaroo Route" between the UK and Australia in 1947, the journey involved nine stops and took four days.
In recent years the Australian airline has cut back its European network, eliminating a Heathrow-Perth route that stopped en route in Asia to refuel. Qantas now operates only two flights from Britain each day, both from Heathrow: to Melbourne and Sydney, via Dubai.
Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas, said: "This is a game-changing route flown by a game-changing aircraft. Travellers from Europe have never had a direct link down under before, so the opportunities this opens for them to explore Australia are huge."
Mr Joyce said passenger comfort on the 17-hour flight was a key consideration. He claimed the airline is "redesigning our on-board service to help reduce jetlag".
The planes will carry 236 passengers in Business, Premium Economy and Economy cabins - and will be fitted with a crew rest area above the passenger cabin.
Aircraft technology has long allowed a flight of this length. In 1989, a Qantas Boeing 747 with an exceptionally low load flew non-stop from Heathrow to Sydney. In 2004, Singapore Airlines launched a route from its base to New York which is 500 miles longer than London-Perth.
But ultra-long-haul aviation is very expensive. Even a highly efficient aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner", has a high fuel burn, and additional staff - including two pairs of pilots - are required. Airlines will operate such routes only if they expect strong demand from business travellers and leisure passengers prepared to pay a premium to fly non-stop.
The launch of the route has been delayed by a dispute between the airline and the Western Australian government about who should pay for changes at Perth airport to allow easy transfers to and from the London flight.
It is believed Qantas already has the slots at Heathrow it needs for the new operation; they are currently leased slots at Heathrow to British Airways.
Timings for the new link have not been revealed. It is thought there may be an early evening departure from Perth, arriving around noon next day in London, which would allow plenty of time for transfers at either end. The return flight would then take off from Heathrow around 3pm, arriving late afternoon the next day in Perth, in time for onward connections.
There are concerns, though, about the value of connections to the non-stop flight. All the mainland state capitals in eastern Australia - Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide - already have one-stop links from Heathrow and other UK airports. And Australians flying to Europe also enjoy a wide range of possible one-stop links via South East Asia and the Gulf.
Gary Leff, a US-based aviation blogger, wrote: "A London direct flight would be most valuable only to passengers with London as their final destination. Why overfly whatever European city you're headed to, and be forced to connect at Heathrow?"
Seats will not go on sale until April 2017. When the route launches, it is expected to be the third-longest passenger flight in the world. At present Emirates holds the record with its Dubai-Auckland service at 8,824 miles. Next month Qatar Airways starts flying from its base in Doha to Auckland, a distance of 9,032 miles - marginally longer than London-Perth. In addition, Singapore Airlines plans to reinstate its link to New York in 2018.
The longest route currently operated from Heathrow is Garuda's 7,275-mile flight to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Next month British Airways starts flying to Santiago in Chile, a journey of a similar length.