A crew and passengers who are constantly screened, scientifically justified tricks to combat jet lag and enough kerosene to reach the final destination: welcome aboard the first non-stop flight from New York to Sydney.
The Australian airline Qantas made the journey, 16,200 kilometers in 19 hours and 16 minutes, to see if such flights are feasible, and how the journey can be illuminated for passengers and crew. This morning the Boeing Dreamliner landed safely at the airport of the Australian city, with 70 minutes of fuel on board, “more than sufficient”.
“We are really happy about the flight,” the captain said on arrival. “It is wonderful that the data that we now collect is used to see if this can become a regular flight.”
Qantas director Alan Joyce, who was on board, called the flight “historic for Qantas, for Australian aviation and for aviation in general”. “We are going to ask people what they thought of it, what worked and what didn’t and we will measure what it yields.”
Brain activity and urine samples
The Dreamliner had only fifty people on board for this test flight, with room for 236 passengers. Among them a team of four pilots, six other crew members, journalists and six passengers who were invited to book their regular flight to Australia.
In addition, there was no load on board, so that as much fuel as possible could be taken.
Crew and passengers were constantly monitored en route to see what the effect of the super long flight was. Pilot brain activity was constantly measured, urine samples recorded their melatonin levels (that hormone affects sleep rhythm) and before, during and after the flight, passengers had to play games to determine the effect on their reaction time.
Jetlag was actively fought with various skills. Although the flight departed from New York at 9 p.m., the lighting remained bright, as it was already in Sydney at noon at that time. A light and spicy lunch had to keep the occupants awake. Exercise (such as a joint macarena) also had to keep the circulation of the travelers going.
“I think the lights did work,” a passenger told a traveling journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald. “The movement was excellent. I came back fairly refreshed.”
A second meal was meant to make everyone more sleepy: a sweet potato soup full of carbohydrates and a mighty panna cotta. “Composed to get us to sleep. Like most passengers, I left around nine,” writes reporter Patrick Hatch.
It all turned out to have worked on landing. “I thought I would be more tired, but I feel quite fresh,” a passenger told Hatch. The journalist himself notes that the flight was three hours faster than there, and without a debilitating transfer in LA.
The effects of the flight will be monitored by everyone in the coming days. “Through this research, we know what we can improve,” explains Qantas boss Joyce. “Ultralong flights are accompanied by new challenges, but that also applied to earlier technological improvements that allowed us to fly further.”
Two more test flights will follow, including one from London to Sydney. At the end of this year, Qantas will decide whether the flights are feasible. By 2023 there must be regular flights from London and New York to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.