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Qantas pilots and Operation Sunrise


Australia's Qantas has long cherished the idea of nonstop flights on two of the world's longest routes—Sydney-London and Sydney-New York—a plan it calls Operation Sunrise. As it grows closer to reality, some big issues remain.

One of those is staffing for the flights, which will run about 21 hours in the air and require 23 hours or more of duty time, including pre- and post-flight duties, far too much for a normal flight crew. Resolving the issue of how many pilots and how long each will be on duty is holding up a firm order for the dozen ultra-long-range A350s the airline has chosen for the routes.

There have been test flights on both routes, using 787s, which can make the distance, but only with very low passenger loads to reduce fuel burn. Crew fatigue studies were a major part of the tests. The airline's staffing plan will have to be approved both by regulators and the pilots.

Qantas currently flies its longest flights with a captain, a first officer and two second officers. The captain and first officer have equal qualifications, but the second officers can only fly at cruising altitudes and are not allowed to handle takeoffs or landings. Singapore Airlines, which has super-long flights from Singapore to New York, uses two captains and two first officers.

Qantas's proposal, not yet approved, is for an 18-month trial of one captain, two first officers and one second officer. Initially, the pilots would be drawn from the airline's rota of A330 captains, which would limit cross-training needs.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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