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Qantas seeks pilot and regulator approval for record 21-hour non-stop Sydney-London flights

Qantas
© Qantas

Only two hurdles now remain for Qantas to overcome as it looks to provide record-breaking 21-hour non-stop flights between Sydney and London – approval from both Australia’s aviation regulator and pilots themselves to agree to what are currently unprecedented duty times. With planes such as the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 now capable of travelling such distances without having to refuel, the gateway to more-profitable flights has been opened, with non-stop flights looking to command a 20 percent premium. However, the current ‘duty time’ limit for pilots is 20 hours, which includes time on the ground while working. The flights between Sydney and London will require an estimated 23 hours duty time.

Qantas currently provides a 17-hour non-stop flight between Perth and London, which includes four pilots on board. The principal concern relates to pilot fatigue, which the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) are currently evaluating for the Perth London route. “The technological change is obviously there but the human physiological side hasn’t changed since the Wright brothers flew,” said Mark Sedgwick, the head of the Qantas pilots’ union, The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA). “We really need to understand the effects on human performance on the flight deck of these ultra-long-range flights.”

According to Reuters, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released a study on pilot fatigue in January which revealed that 60 percent of long-haul pilots had experienced moderate to severe fatigue on their most recent flight.

Currently, the world’s longest non-stop flight is Singapore Airlines’ almost 19-hour journey between Singapore and New York. Singapore’s aviation regulators require the presence of two captains and two first officers where duty time exceeds 18 hours, to “optimize their alertness throughout the flight.” Currently, to reduce costs on Qantas’ Perth to London route, which has a duty time of 20 hours, the carrier uses one captain, one first officer and two second officers, though second officers can fly only at cruising altitudes and cannot take off or land the aircraft.

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