Australian airline Qantas broke two world records last November with its experimental research flight GF789, which became the longest passenger flight in the world by a commercial airline for both distance, 17,800 kilometers (approximately 11,060 miles), and for the duration in the air, at 19 hours and 19 minutes.
The flight was part of an ambitious Qantas plan called Project Sunrise, which also included non-stop service between New York and Sydney.
Described as Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce as the “last frontier” in commercial flight, the world looked set to usher in a new generation of ultra long-haul flights. The airline was to announce a decision in recent weeks on whether to continue services.
Then Covid-19 appeared on the horizon.
Flight Qantas QF7879 arrives to land at the end of its record flight.
James D Morgan / Qantas
“There is enormous potential for the Sunrise project but the time has not yet come given the impact that Covid-19 has had on travel around the world,” Joyce said in a call to reporters on May 5, in statements confirmed to CNN by Qantas.
Qantas hoped to integrate the new routes into its regular schedule by 2023. It was announced in December that the airline had chosen Airbus as a route partner and was drafting an agreement for up to 12 modified A350s.
“We’re obviously talking to Airbus about the 350,” said Joyce in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “While we are in the recovery phase of Covid-19, it is not appropriate for us to place an order for this large number of aircraft and the capital costs that this would entail. “
The project is still very much on the airline’s radar, however, Joyce describing the Sunrise project as a “longer-term opportunity”.
Qantas shared a video last month revealing how its planes were cared for and maintained after being taken out of service during the pandemic.
All scheduled Qantas international flights are currently on hold, as are those of its subsidiary Jetstar. Together, they immobilized more than 150 aircraft, including all of their A380, 747 and B787 aircraft.
Qantas celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020. The airline’s original mission was to serve northern Australia, sparsely populated, and its first aircraft was an Avro 504, a pre-WWI biplane that could accommodate a pilot and passenger.
CNN’s Barry Neild, Richard Quest, Michelle Toh, Lilit Marcus and Miquel Ros contributed to this report.