A Qantas airplane took off from New York on Friday night and didn’t stop until it reached Sydney just over 19 hours later, setting a record for the world’s longest nonstop commercial passenger flight.
Months of planning went into the Boeing 787-9′s 10,066-mile journey. Tests assessed the health and well-being of the 49 passengers and crew members aboard the flight, which was conducted for research purposes as the largest airline in Australia explores offering the “ultra long” flights.
“This is a really significant first for aviation,” Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said in a news release. “Hopefully, it’s a preview of a regular service that will speed up how people travel from one side of the globe to the other.”
The company is seeking to launch nonstop flights between Australia’s east coast and New York and London, saving passengers up to four hours in travel time. Its Project Sunrise plans to test the London-to-Sydney route in November and decide by the end of this year whether to offer the new routes.
For the New York-to-Sydney test, the passenger and baggage load was restricted to control the weight on the plane. Medical researchers and scientists worked with Qantas to make adjustments to cabin lighting, and in-flight meals were adjusted to reduce jet lag.
Rather than starting with dinner and then lights off, as night flights typically operate, the research flight began with lunch and the lights were kept on for six hours to mirror the destination’s time of day.
Overall, the ultralong journey went “really smoothly,” said Qantas Capt. Sean Golding, who led the four pilots operating the service. They were happy with the trip, he said.
“We had a lot of interest from air traffic controllers as we crossed through different airspace because of the uniqueness of this flight,” Golding said. “We also had a special sign-off and welcome home from the control towers in New York and Sydney, which you don’t get every day."
The longest nonstop commercial flight that is offered is Singapore Airlines’s 18-hour-and-45-minute route from Singapore to Newark, which debuted last year. The route uses an Airbus plane designed for ultralong-range travel, with features such as larger windows, higher ceilings and an extra-wide body.