How Qantas broke through aviation’s final frontier
Qantas has broken through "one of the final frontiers" in commercial aviation with the first ever non-stop passenger flight from New York to Sydney.
The new Boeing 787-9 flew 19 hours and sixteen minutes, shaving at least three hours off the usual journey with a stopover.
"This is a really historic moment for Qantas, a really historic moment for Australian aviation and a really historic moment for world aviation," said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce when QA7879 landed.
Captain Sean Golding said there was "a comfortable 70 minutes worth of fuel" on arrival despite there being stronger headwinds than anticipated.
There were 49 people aboard the plane, including six volunteer passengers who agreed to be research subjects, Qantas staff and media, all of whom flew business class.
A collection of scientists from institutions including Monash University, Sydney University and Boeing were studying the alertness of passengers and crew on the flight and will spend the next fortnight logging how they are coping with jet lag and fatigue.
The passenger verdict was overwhelmingly in favour of the longer flight over one that was broken up in stages, with even the parents aboard saying they would prefer to have their families settled on board for one ultra-long haul journey.
Passenger volunteer Daniel Brescia, 32, who works in finance and lives in Sydney's east, said he would choose a direct flight.
"I think I slept about nine hours, which I can usually manage to do in business class," he said.
"But I definitely prefer the direct option to changing flights part way through."
Another volunteer Laurie Kozlovic, whose wife and two children flew back to Australia the day before, says he would choose the direct flight option but was not sure his children would enjoy it.
"I would pay a premium for this service if I had to be alert when I landed," said Mr Kozlovic, of Adelaide.
The airline will decide by the end of the year if they will push forward with plans to commercialise the New York to Australia route as well as one from London by 2022 or 2023.
There are a number of hurdles. Current Australian regulations allow pilots to work 20-hour shifts - which can be necessary with time blowouts on the 17 hour London to Perth route Qantas started last year.
Research into pilot alertness collected on the weekend's inaugural flight will inform Qantas's case to regulatory authorities.
There is also a wait for the appropriate plane stock with Boeing and Airbus competing for the potential contract.
The flight travelled over the centre of the United States and passed 200 miles (321km) south of Hawaii before cruising over Vanuatu and New Caledonia and landing in Mascot, early on Sunday morning.
The new Boeing 787-9 was flown from Seattle by Captain Lisa Norman, a 30-year veteran of the airline who piloted last year's first direct flight from Perth to London.
Professor Marie Carroll from Sydney University's Charles Perkins Centre said every aspect of the journey had been tailored to mimic the timezone of its destination.
She said the most challenging leg of the flight had been the last two hours of "day time", seven hours after the plane took off from New York at 9pm.
Prof Carroll said the research into jet lag was about more than helping frequent flyers feel better.
"It's not just about one long haul flight, that's of course inconvenient," she said.
"But when the sleep cycle is continuously disrupted, such as for shift workers and cabin crew there are a number of long term health consequences.
"There is obesity, from eating when your metabolism doesn't want to eat, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, because of the impact on your immune system.
"They have always known about shift workers and things like truck drivers and alertness. But it's really only in the last five years that we have understood the effect on the whole system of disruption the circadian rhythms."