Days before Qantas officially launches its new non-stop flights from Britain to Australia, The Independent can reveal the likely schedule for the new flight.
Starting 26 March 2018, a Boeing 787-9 twin jet will leave London Heathrow at around 10am, for a noon arrival next day in Perth.
The 17-hour flight officially covers 9,009 miles, but in practice the distance will be higher depending on winds and geo-political considerations; the most direct route passes over the disputed Crimea region of Ukraine.
The “Great Circle” track between the two cities crosses the Caucasus and Iran, then follows the western coast of India to Sri Lanka, which is 5,400 miles from London. The remaining 3,600 miles, about the same as from Heathrow to New York, crosses the Indian Ocean.
Lunch service will begin over Germany, with dinner over the Arabian Sea portion of the Indian Ocean. Passengers will be served breakfast two hours before touchdown at Perth.
After the longest flight from the UK, passengers are likely to be desperate to get off. But some of them will be able to stretch their legs only briefly before re-boarding the plane, which will continue to Melbourne, four-and-a-half hours further on. Connections will be available to Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney.
Qantas believes the new link needs to be extended to a larger Australian city. Perth, the most isolated state capital, has fewer than 2 million residents, while Melbourne has a population more than twice as large.
The aircraft from London is likely to continue across the Pacific from Melbourne to Los Angeles as flight QF95. It is understood that Qantas may also offer passengers from Perth the first “same plane” service to California, helping to fill the trans-Australia sector of the new link.
The return flight to London is expected leave Melbourne at around 7pm and Perth soon after 10pm.
The westbound journey will take an hour longer because of the prevailing headwinds, giving an arrival around 7am in London. It is believed Qantas already owns the Heathrow slots that permit such a pattern.
If these timings are adopted, they will offer good connections to and from some of the relatively few big UK airports without existing one-stop connections to Perth, such as Leeds/Bradford, Aberdeen and Belfast.
The “Dreamliner” used for the ultra-long route will have 42 business class “suites”, 28 premium economy seats and 166 economy seats.
While some aviation insiders have expressed scepticism about the prospects for the route, given the sparse population in Western Australia, data from the most recent census reveals why Qantas believes there is sufficient demand for a new non-stop service.
Perth is home to 184,000 British-born people, more than any other Australian city. The 2014 Australian Social Trends survey says: “Around one in every eight residents of Perth was born in the UK. This is the largest overseas-born population group living in Perth by quite a margin, and the largest overseas-born population group found in any capital city in Australia.”
By comparison, Sydney and Melbourne each have around 150,000 British expatriates, representing just over 4 per cent of the population in either city.
Direct (one-stop) links between London and Perth ended a decade ago.
Qantas believes the UK-born migrants and their relatives in Britain will be happy to pay extra for a non-stop service compared with existing options which all involve a change of planes, usually in the middle of the night.
Fares have yet to be announced. The London-Perth sector is expected to command a significant premium over present one-stop options, which will help to offset the very high operational costs in fuel and personnel. The lowest likely fare is around £1,000 return, representing a notional £150 each way premium for the privilege of a faster journey.
Fares can be combined with existing options, allowing a non-stop outbound to Perth and a one-stop via Dubai from Melbourne or Sydney.
Oddly, fares on the full London-Melbourne service are likely to be cheaper than those to Perth. If current levels prevail, tickets could cost as little as £700 return.
The current longest routes from the UK are both from Heathrow: on Garuda Indonesia to Jakarta (7,275 miles), and on British Airways to Santiago de Chile (7,248 miles).
The longest non-stop flight is on Qatar Airways from Doha to Auckland (9,025 miles), very similar to the Heathrow-Perth link in distance and duration.