Bright start: the crew of Qantas flight QF7879 and the airline’s chief executive on arrival at Sydney
Bright start: the crew of Qantas flight QF7879 and the airline’s chief executive on arrival at Sydney

Climate-change campaigners deplore Qantas nonstop New York-Sydney flight

Exclusive: 10,000-mile test flight was ‘unnecessary and irresponsible’ according to Flight Free UK

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 22 October 2019 00:07

The first-ever flight from New York to Sydney has been strongly criticised by climate-change campaigners.

At the weekend, Qantas flew a Boeing 787 Dreamliner over 10,000 miles between the biggest cities in the US and Australia.

The jet had no paying passengers onboard, but carried crew, Qantas officials and researchers assessing the effects of the 19-hour, 16-minute flight on travellers.

Anna Hughes, director of Flight Free UK, told The Independent: “While there is no doubt that ultra-long-haul flights are a remarkable feat of ingenuity and engineering, we cannot ignore the climate impact, which is especially high as a large proportion of the fuel is used simply to carry the rest of the fuel.

“At this time of climate emergency we should be investing our ingenuity and engineering in lower carbon methods of long-haul travel.

“These flight experiments are unnecessary and irresponsible.”

The impact per passenger for a flight is far from linear. Short flights are most damaging per passenger mile. From around an hour onward, CO2 emissions per passenger mile start to reduce.

But if a flight is scheduled to extend beyond six or seven hours, the fuel carried becomes significant and the burn per passenger mile rises more sharply than the increase in distance. Ultra-long-haul aviation is especially damaging.

The aircraft used was brand new, and effectively Qantas extended a routine delivery flight from the Boeing factory in Washington State – flying it first to Los Angeles and then to New York.

On the journey to Australia it caught up with the normal daily QF12 flight that connects New York with Los Angeles, where a plane change is made to a larger Airbus A380 to Sydney.

A spokesperson for Qantas said: “In terms of fuel burn and emissions, the direct flight was no worse than a normal stopover in Los Angeles and possibly a lot better given you remove the taxing and possible inbound delays which occur frequently from a stopover.

“Also, the emissions from the flight were offset.”

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The airline says that one in 10 Qantas customers chooses to offset their flights, compared with the industry standard of one in 100.

While some media reports have described the New York-Sydney trip as “the world’s longest commercial flight”, it was neither a commercial flight nor the longest flight involving a commercial airliner; Qantas made a longer and much more damaging flight three decades ago when it flew a Boeing 747 from London to Sydney.

In 2018, Qantas launched nonstop flights between Heathrow and Perth in Western Australia. At 9,009 miles, the link is the third-longest in the world, after the Singapore Airlines link from Singapore to New York (9,529 miles) and Qatar Airways’ daily service from Doha to Auckland (9,032 miles).

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