Qantas plans on-board gyms for world's longest flight between Sydney and London

The airline plans to provide gym space on flights between Sydney and London.
The airline plans to provide gym space on flights between Sydney and London. Photo credit: Qantas.

Qantas has ditched the idea of installing sleeping pods on its planned non-stop flight from Sydney to London and is instead designing something for the entirely opposite end of the energy spectrum - a gym.

Speaking to media at this week's IATA conference in Korea, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said plans for what will become the world's longest flight are well on track.

Qantas has been working with Airbus and Boeing on what they are calling 'Project Sunrise,' an aircraft capable of flying non-stop for over 20 hours.

When the service launches, it will be fitted out with entirely new cabin offerings, from the front to the back.

Keeping the take-off weight as low as possible is key to being able to fly an aircraft the 17,000 kilometres between Sydney and London.

Qantas had been looking into the idea of putting sleeping pods in what is currently used as the cargo hold.

"It will be four classes. It will have a new business class, a new first class, and for the economy passengers and premium economy passengers, we're looking at what we're calling a fourth zone for people to stretch, to exercise, to hydrate on," Joyce said. 

The airline is as confident as ever that it can turn the 21-hour flight into one that passengers enjoy. Feedback from those who have flown what is currently its longest flight, Perth to London, has been more positive than it had anticipated.

"What that has meant is that the route has been profitable from day one and the (feedback) score that we're getting on the route, it is the longest route on our network, and it is the highest net (feedback) score. So, our customers are loving the service that we put in place," Joyce said.

And it's not just the first and business classes that are doing well on the route, the flight has an average of 90 percent capacity in economy too.

"We've given the biggest seat pitch, we've designed meals with the help of the University of Sydney and Neil Perry, reduced the impact of jet lag, we've changed the lighting scheme on the aircraft."

It's not the first time Qantas has looked at making travel between Australia and Europe faster.

In the 1960s the airline was in the process of ordering a Concorde which would mean a flight to London from Sydney would take just 12 hours, but it would have to stop for fuel six times and would be banned from flying over land due to sound restrictions.

The Boeing supersonic jet that Qantas never flew.
The Boeing supersonic jet that Qantas never flew. Photo credit: Qantas.

It had also placed a multi-million dollar deposit on a supersonic aircraft being built by Boeing.

As well as flights to London, Qantas is looking at non-stop flights between Perth and Paris.

The plans for additional Perth services are on hold as the airline fights with the city's airport in court.

"We have a dispute over charges and until that's resolved, we're not going to reward bad behaviour."

"We don't think that's the right way of conducting business, and so unfortunately, we're not expanding at the moment. But we think we'll get there in the end and we would be very excited about doing Perth-Paris operation as the next cab off the rank."

The airport is currently restricting Qantas from launching routes such as Perth to Johannesburg. 

It's not just the wellbeing of passengers being studied by the airline. It is also undertaking studies to assess the levels of pilot fatigue on ultra-long haul routes.

In order for regulators to be satisfied with the working conditions on the 21-hour flight, there has to be a plan in place for how a pilots time and tiredness are managed.

"(You need to be able to) go to the regulator and say, how many pilots you need, what's the best breaks on the aircraft, how that can work on a 21-hour flight, and persuade them, that that allowance can be managed," Joyce said.

Qantas is aiming to launch what it is calling the 'last frontier in aviation,' the non-stop Sydney to London flight, in 2022.