Reg hack survives world's longest commercial flight

How the cloud kept me in the clouds for 17 soul-crushing hours

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The Airbus A380 has a range of 15,200km, but the longest scheduled commercial flight using the aircraft is the 13,804km Dallas (USA) to Sydney (Australia) jaunt flown by Australia's Qantas.

Heading from Oz to the USA, the trip takes just 15 hours and 35 minutes, which at only about an hour longer than a Sydney-Los Angeles flight is worth it because connections to the East coast are shorter from Dallas than they are from LA.

But on the way back, the plane has to plough into headwinds and the journey was scheduled at a soul-crushing 16 hours and 50 minutes.

And when I say soul-crushing, I say it with the benefit of experience: I flew the route last month and while convenient, it's a long, long time to be stuck in a small chair inside an aluminium tube.

History has known longer commercial flights. Until last year, Singapore Airlines did a 19-hour Singapore-New York hop in an A340, offering only business class seats to save weight.

Even in that configuration, the cost of operating the four-engine plane killed off that service, leaving Dallas-Sydney the longest hop and the longest economy-class hop ever.

As it happens, cloud computing was responsible for some of my misery: at the AWS Summit in Sydney a few weeks ago, Qantas detailed how it gathered data from 1,500 trans-Pacific flights in an effort to plot better routes to Los Angeles and Dallas.

That data's visualised at the top of this story (or here for mobile readers).

The airline figured out its analytics systems had enough processing capacity to crunch the data, but only if it did no other work for four months. It instead shoved the data into the AWS cloud and got the analysis it needed in a few days.

Qantas won't say much more than that, but the gist of its presentation at the summit was “Hurrah for cloudy elastic infrastructure and analytics!”

Beyond that flippancy, the ability to number-crunch all those flights is a big deal. Qantas' international arm has bled cash in recent years, so creating new and profitable routes is therefore pretty important.

No wonder AWS wants Qantas on stage: what better way to show off its cloud than as the harbinger of a previously inconceivable product?

Next page: Sixteen hours aloft

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