(CBS News) — Qantas Airlines completed a record-breaking commercial flight Sunday morning when one of its Boeing 787-9s landed in Sydney at 7:42 a.m. local time after a nonstop journey from New York. The total trip took 19 hours and 15 minutes.
The survey flight, the first time the two cities have been connected by air in one go, is part of Project Sunrise, Qantas’ effort to push the limits of commercial flying. Though the Australian airline is well-versed on operating long-haul routes, connecting Sydney and Melbourne to both New York and London has up until now remained outside the airline’s grasp.
Flight 7879 departed New York on Friday evening loaded with 222,900 pounds of fuel to make the journey. Since the 787-9 doesn’t have the range to complete the 10,000-mile journey with a full load of passengers, the flight carried only 50 passengers and crew and no cargo. The airliner was brand new, having just come off Boeing’s assembly line near Seattle.
As part of Project Sunrise’s goal to limit jet lag and ensure the health of both passengers and crew on lengthy flights, a few medical experts were on board to monitor passenger sleep patterns and food and beverage consumption. The four-member flight crew, who worked on rotation, also wore EEG (electroencephalogram) monitors that tracked brainwaves and alertness.
If Qantas decides to proceed with new flights and wins the necessary regulatory approval, it hopes to start flying to New York and London by 2023, the airline says. But Qantas still needs to clear a critical hurdle before it can do so: It needs a plane that can make either route with a full load. Both the new Airbus A350-1000 and the yet-to-fly Boeing 777X may have the necessary potential, but the airline has yet to place any orders.
Qantas has operated a 17-hour flight from Perth to London nonstop using 787s since 2016, but the New York and London flights would both become the longest flights in the world, at about 19 hours each. New York passengers would save a four-hour stopover in Los Angeles, and London passengers would save a connection in Singapore.