Qantas Airways is set to operate the first direct flight by a commercial airline from New York to Sydney today in what will be the world’s longest nonstop commercial flight.
In the first of three “ultra long-haul” test flights planned by Australia’s national flag carrier this year, researchers will monitor the effects on passengers of the 19-hour nonstop journey.
Up to 40 passengers and crew – most of them Qantas employees – will be on board the Boeing 787-9 when it departs New York on Friday (Oct 18). The plane is scheduled to arrive Down Under on Sunday morning.
Singapore Airlines flights 21 and 22, which travel about 18 hours from Singapore to New York, previously held the record for longest nonstop commercial flight. They operate daily between Singapore Changi Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
Passenger numbers have been restricted to minimise the weight on board and give the plane sufficient fuel range to travel about 16,000km without re-fuelling, heading west over the Pacific.
No other airline has ever achieved the feat, which Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has called the “final frontier in aviation”.
Scientists from two Australian universities will be on board to monitor passengers’ sleep patterns, melatonin levels, and food consumption.
Pilots will also wear a device that tracks their brain waves and alertness.
With a 15-hour time difference between New York and Sydney, the impact of jetlag will be closely watched.
“We know from the basic science of circadian rhythms that a bigger time difference between departure and arrival locations, and travelling east rather than west, tends to mean people feel more jetlag,” University of Sydney professor Stephen Simpson told AFP.
“But people seem to be wildly different when it comes to the experience of jetlag – and we need more research on what contributes to jetlag and travel fatigue, so we can try and reduce the impact of long-haul flights.”
Qantas last year introduced the first direct service from the western Australian city of Perth to London, with the 17-hour journey one of the longest passenger flights in the world.
As well as the New York-Sydney route, Qantas will test a service from London to Sydney in the coming months.