Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the airline is close to offering non-stop flights from to London and New York from the east coast of Australia, thanks in part to advances in cloud computing. Joyce said the new aircraft needed for the long haul are ready and the airline expects to place orders this year.

During Amazon Web Services annual Australian conference in Sydney this morning, Joyce and Qantas CTO Rob James explained how the company has used data and algorithms to optimise flight paths, helping to create slight but significant efficiencies, including on the proposed routes from Melbourne and Sydney to London and New York.

The Qantas flight planning algorithm, which runs in on AWS cloud infrastructure, simulates tens of thousands of possible new routes, accounting for millions of data points including weather, turbulence and wind patterns.

“When we do that it gives us more flexibility in what we do with our aircraft,” James said.

“We don’t have to weight limit the aircraft and we can take more passengers to their destination. Or we can choose to fly a less turbulent path, or we can pick up a tailwind and get you to your destination much sooner.”

Project Sunrise

The algorithm is being used in the airlines’ “project sunrise” — Qantas’ quest to offer direct non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London. The 19- and 21-hour flights are currently not possible because of limitations in the available planes. Qantas launched non-stop flights from Perth to London last year.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said he wrote to both Boeing and Airbus CEOs, challenging them to produce an aircraft capable of flying the new direct route by 2022.

“They put huge teams behind it and we now believe there is an aircraft capable of doing it,” Joyce said, noting there were other areas outside of the planes themselves that must mature before commercial flights are possible.

These include considerations of pilot and passenger health and experience on a 21-hour flight as well as necessary regulatory changes, according to Joyce.

“We think we will have all of that lined, hopefully, this year so we can make an order for that aircraft.”

Joyce said the proposed route, if achieved, would mark a major innovation for Qantas, on par with its previous inventions of business class, code sharing and round the world flights, helping to ensure the airline’s survival.

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