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Boeing boost: Qantas eyes new 787-10 order

Qantas is set to boost the size of its long-range Boeing 787 fleet with a surprise order for the 787-10 model of the popular jetliner.

The -10 is the largest member of the Dreamliner family, with Qantas flying the mid-sized 787-9 and Jetstar the debutante 787-8.

Although the 787-10 is some 5.5 metres longer than the -9 when measured from tip to tail, giving it the ability to carry more passengers and cargo but over a slightly reduced range; Boeing rates the -10’s reach at just shy of 12,000km, against the 787-9’s 14,140km range.

Those metrics help pit the 787-10 as a rival to the Airbus A330, which is Qantas’ stalwart on the east-west transcontinental trek along with most routes into Asia.

(Even Qantas’ longest current Asian route, from Melbourne to New Delhi, falls comfortably within the 787-10’s range.)

Until the arrival of the A350 in late 2025, the Boeing 787-9 stands as Qantas' long-haul hero'.

Until the arrival of the A350 in late 2025, the Boeing 787-9 stands as Qantas’ long-haul hero’.

According to international news agency Reuters citing “industry sources”, Boeing is closing in on an “order for an unspecified number of 787-10s (which) could be announced as early as this month, the sources said.”

“The sources cautioned that such negotiations typically go down to the wire and no decision is final until it has won airline board approval.”

The Reuters report comes ahead of this Thursday morning’s presentation of Qantas’ 2023 financial results, which are expected to hit a stonking underlying pre-tax profit close to $2.5 billion – a full $1 billion higher than its prior record result in 2018 – based on continued strong travel demand matched with high airfares.

The briefing will be co-hosted by Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, who is retiring in November, alongside CEO-designate and current Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Hudson.

From Sydney–Perth to Seattle and Paris..?

Hudson has already indicated the airline would be shopping around for a new mid-sized jet to replace its 24 ageing Airbus A330s, with the call expected to go out “in the second half of this year.”

Airbus was expected to put forward its next-gen A330neo aircraft as a like-for-like replacement, with Boeing steering Qantas towards the 787 Dreamliner.

“The one thing that we are hearing from speaking to the manufacturers and other airlines is that there is a significant demand for wide-body aircraft and many campaigns coming into the market over the next six months,” Hudson remarked during a media briefing at the June 2023 International Air Transport Association AGM in Istanbul.

“It’s very important that we make sure that we are able to negotiate the best outcome for Qantas, and also reserve the (manufacturing) slots which are filling up really quickly,” she added.

The A330s are arguably the most flexible aircraft in the Qantas fleet, spanning domestic east-west routes along with flights to Asia, India, Hawaii, Seoul and even a trans-Pacific trek between Brisbane and Los Angeles.

Qantas introduced its modern Business Suite with the A330s in 2014.

Qantas introduced its modern Business Suite with the A330s in 2014.

The A330s were the launchpad for the Business Suite at the end of 2014 – a modern business class seat that’s since appeared on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 – with the domestic jets also fitted with fast and free WiFi.

The A330’s replacement will slot into what Qantas calls its ‘right aircraft, right route’ approach, which will leverage the vastly extended range  of the forthcoming Airbus A220 and A321XLR jets over the Boeing 717s and 737s they replace.

The A330 and its replacement will span both short-to medium and long range routes.

The A330 and its replacement will span both short-to medium and long range routes.

While Qantas has completed its order for fourteen Boeing 787-9s assigned to long-range and ultra-long range flying and has no further 787s on the books, the airline has cited Paris, Chicago and Seattle as future routes for non-stop Dreamliner flights

Speculation is that the flexible Boeing 787-10 could power up Qantas’ international flying to Asia, North America and Europe while also taking the lead on the 4-6 hour cross-country treks between Australia’s east and west capitals.

Is the Dreamliner too much plane for domestic routes?

Qantas boss Joyce at one stage talked of taking on scores of Dreamliners held as sharply-priced “orders and options” from the airline’s original order in 2005 to replace the A330s on domestic as as well as Asian routes.

However, speaking with Executive Traveller in 2017 during a visit to Boeing in Seattle, Joyce remarked “our thinking has evolved… while the 787 as with the A330 are pretty powerful they are over-spec’d” for domestic flights, “so the economics do not work.”

Those economics could of course change, depending on not only discounted pricing from Boeing but the ability to swing the 787-10s between short legs such as Sydney-Perth to the likes of Perth-Paris and Sydney-Seattle.

While there’s no doubt that any red-tailed 787-10s would be configured with business and economy class – likely using the same or an evolved version of the current Dreamliner seats – the role of premium economy could come in for some scrutiny.

There’s no established market for premium economy on even Australia’s longest domestic east-west routes, but it’s a must-have in the long-range flying mix and arguably could have strong appeal on flights between Australia and Asia, especially on overnight return legs.

As to how the 787-9 and 787-10 differ in the practical aspect of seating capacity, one good benchmark is Japan’s ANA, which has 246 seats on its Boeing 787-9s and 294 on the -10 variant, with both Dreamliners in a three-class set up of business, premium economy and economy.

Qantas’ standard 787-9 configuration runs the same three classes, albeit in a ‘premium-heavy’ skew, to 236 seats.

Etihad Airways and Taiwan’s EVA Air both fly the 787-10 in a two-class layout topped out by 32-34 business class seats and a respective total of 299 and 342 seats.


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