Canberra Qantas passengers who regularly fly the Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne routes will soon see a new aircraft as the airline starts to phase out its Boeing 717 passenger jets.
The Airbus A220-300 will start replacing Qantas’s 20 717s from later this year, bringing new levels of comfort, range, and efficiency across Australia and the wider region.
The 717 is well liked due to its five-abreast (2/3) layout, quiet cabin due to its rear-mounted engines and overall reliability. The first 717s entered service in Australia in 2000, although the original design dates back to the 1960s-era Douglas DC-9 familiar to TAA and Ansett passengers of the 1970s and 80s.
Through several company mergers in the 1970s and 90s, Douglas – then McDonnell Douglas, then Boeing – continued to develop the DC-9 with upgraded models featuring longer fuselages, more powerful and efficient engines, and different designations with the 110-seat 717 being the last of these.
The 717 was operated in Australia by the short-lived Impulse Airlines, Qantas low-cost subsidiary Jetstar, Adelaide-based Cobham on behalf of Qantas’s regional subsidiary QantasLink, and most recently by QantasLink itself.
“It’s the end of an era for these Boeing 717s which have played a crucial role in connecting Australians across our domestic and regional network for more than two decades,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a 29 May release.
Under the internally dubbed ‘Project Winton’, Qantas has ordered at least 20 Airbus A220s to not only replace the 717s, but also open up new ‘long and thin’ routes in Australia and the wider region which may not be well enough patronised to justify operating a larger aircraft such as the 180-seat Boeing 737.
The A220 started life as the Bombardier CSeries regional airliner, and was launched in July 2008. Designed in Canada, the C-Series was designed to be built in two models – the CS100 and CS300 with 100 and 130 seats respectively – to replace the 717, Fokker 70 and 100, Embraer ERJ-170/175, older Boeing 737-200/300/500/600/700 series and Airbus A318/A319 models, and other jet airliners in the 100-150-seat category.
The CSeries featured new generation geared turbofan engines which provided more thrust for the equivalent fuel-burn, or reduced fuel-burn for the equivalent thrust ratings compared to older turbofan and turbojet engines.
The CSeries’ first flight was in 2013, and it entered service with Swiss International in 2016. Following a 2017 trade dispute between Canada and the US and a number of financial bailouts of the program by the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments, Bombardier sold the CSeries production line to Airbus.
To align with Airbus’ airliner model designations, the CSeries was redesignated as the A220, with the CS100 and CS300 becoming the A220-100 and A220-300 respectively.
Compared to the 717, the A220 has 27 more seats including 10 business class seats, double the range, and nearly 30 per cent less fuel-burn. The A220’s 6300km-range brings all of Australia plus potential destinations such as Bali, Jakarta, Suva and Christchurch into scope from Australia’s south-eastern cities, and opens up Auckland, Singapore, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Manila from Perth.
The A220’s arrival is the latest in a series of Qantas’ planned fleet renewal program. Following a hiatus during the pandemic, Qantas has again started receiving Boeing 787-9s which conduct long-haul flights to Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco and Dallas-Fort Worth, and the non-stop Perth to London service.
It has also resurrected 10 of its 12 Airbus A380s from storage in California and returned these to service on the ‘Kangaroo Route’ to London via Singapore, and from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles.
The Qantas group has also taken delivery of seven out of 18 Airbus A321neoLR airliners on order for Jetstar. The ‘neo’ – new engine option – is an advanced development of the familiar A320/A321 currently operated by Jetstar, but features new geared turbofan engines giving 20 per cent less fuel-burn, 50 per cent less noise and longer range.
The long-lived Boeing 737-800 fleet operated by Qantas since the late 1990s – and frequently used on peak services to and from Canberra – will also start to be phased out from 2024 and replaced by the Airbus A320neo which shares the new engines and systems with Jetstar’s slightly larger A321neo.
Qantas has also selected the Airbus A350-1000 to fulfil its ambitious ‘Project Sunrise’ requirement to potentially fly nonstop between Sydney and London or New York City from 2025. It remains to be seen whether the non-stop services will be able to be operated consistently, with high load factors and headwinds anecdotally seeing luggage and cargo sometimes needing to be ‘left behind’ on the Perth-London route.
In 10 years’ time, Qantas – which for decades was exclusively a Boeing operator – will, apart from the 787, predominantly have an Airbus fleet operating its short-medium and long-haul services.
“Qantas is in the early stages of the biggest fleet renewal program in its history, with up to 299 narrow-body aircraft spread over 10-plus years as well as the A350s that will operate our Project Sunrise flights,” Mr Joyce said.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time for our employees as well as our customers as these new aircraft create more opportunities and unlock new destinations.”