The ultra-long-haul flights that don't exist – but should

Simon Calder
Missing link: the 8,169-mile route between Los Angeles (LAX) and Ho Chi Minh City (SGN): Great Circle Mapper

On Thursday 14 November, Qantas aims to repeat its 1989 nonstop flight from London Heathrow to Sydney.

The Australian airline is staging the exercise as it prepares for a commercial launch on the 10,561-mile link by 2022.

Meanwhile, the schedule analysts at OAG have compiled a top 10 of the world’s “longest unserved routes“ – the ultra-long-haul links that have no direct flights, even with intermediate refuelling stops.

The clear “missing link” winner is Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The 8,169-mile route is comfortably within range for aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

In the year to July 2019, more than 270,000 passengers flew between the two cities, mainly connecting in China or Japan.

But Deirdre Fulton, who wrote the report for OAG, said: “There are question marks about the financial viability of the route.

“Is this a market where there are enough passengers prepared to pay a premium to travel direct? With many travellers lured to Vietnam because it is relatively unknown and inexpensive, or to visit friends and relatives, will they also be price sensitive about their flights?

“Whatever the size of the market, route economics may prevent this flight getting off the ground.”

Check list: nine of the top 10 unserved very long routes. Frankfurt-Sydney is missing (OAG)

A flight from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City, in fourth place in the OAG survey, may prove more successful because it is 330 miles shorter, representing a 40-minute time saving and consequently reducing costs. In the past year 171,000 people made the journey via intermediate points.

Another US-South East Asia link is in second place: Los Angeles to Bangkok, which is slightly longer at 8,270 miles. More than a quarter of a million passengers a year make the journey between California and the Thai capital.

An additional 140,000 fly indirectly the 8,677 miles between New York and Bangkok, in seventh place.

In third place is a route that was served for many years with en-route stops: London to Brisbane, at 10,277 miles.

British Airways and Qantas used to fly between Heathrow and the Queensland capital. BA has now abandoned every Australian city apart from Sydney, while Qantas transfers passengers at Singapore and Perth.

The nonstop link is too far to make it commercially feasible using current aircraft, but is one of the routes considered by Qantas as part of its “Project Sunrise” ultra-long-haul planning.

Fifth place is a surprise: Dhaka in Bangladesh to New York JFK, which would fly over the high Arctic on the 7,880-mile direct link.

The French evidently have a love affair with Bali, since Paris to the island’s airport, Denpasar, is the sixth-most popular unserved route. Again, at 7,695 miles, it is perfectly feasible – and would also benefit from connecting traffic from a dozen UK airports via Charles de Gaulle airport in the French capital.

Sydney features three times in the lower half of the table. Two are links to Australia’s largest city from Europe: both Paris (10,527 miles) and Frankfurt (10,248 miles). Air France and Lufthansa respectively used to serve these routes via en route stops, as did Qantas.

The third is from the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Sydney has a large population of Lebanese descent, and the 8,811 link is easily achievable with the Qantas Boeing 787 currently flying the London-Perth route.

There are increasing concerns about the impact of ultra-long-haul flights on climate change. They burn more fuel per passenger than flights that refuel en route.

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