World records are often done to assert primacy—but sometimes they’re inspired by necessity. The latter was the case with the longest nonstop flight with paying passengers, completed in March by Air Tahiti Nui. With the outbreak of COVID-19, French nationals on the South Pacific island of Tahiti found themselves unable to return home due to international travel bans. The airline, though, realized it had the equipment to get those stranded people back to France in one 9,765-air-mile hop: a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipped with GEnx engines.
Flights between Tahiti and Europe typically stop to refuel at Los Angeles International Airport, where passengers have to get off and clear customs while the plane is serviced. Then they get back on and resume their travels. But a ban on international travelers entering the U.S. meant French citizens couldn’t land in California.
Rather than find a stopover in another country, Air Tahiti Nui decided to take advantage of the extended-range capacity of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and beneficial tailwinds, and fly the French citizens home nonstop. Departing at 3:14 a.m. local time on March 14, the flight flew northeast over Mexico, the American Midwest, Ontario and Quebec before soaring out over the North Atlantic, arching back down over the British Isles and finally landing in Paris — 15 hours and 45 minutes after takeoff. Four pilots traded off cockpit duties while safely ferrying an undisclosed number of paying passengers.
It wasn’t the first record-setting flight in recent years to be powered by GE Aviation’s GEnx engines. The Australian airline Qantas has flown even further in a series of experimental flights including a 2019 voyage of 10,000 miles between New York City and Sydney. The 49 guests aboard were outfitted with sensors to measure the effects of ultralong air travel. Qantas recently ended those experimental flights, dubbed Project Sunrise, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, since 2017, the airline has been using planes with GEnx engines on commercial routes, including scheduled nonstop flights between Perth in Western Australia and London, a trip of 9,010 miles.
The GEnx engines are designed with composite components, including carbon fiber and epoxy resin materials, making them lighter than other engines while providing more thrust. The GEnx engine offers up to 15 percent improved fuel-efficiency, 15 percent less CO2and runs about 40 percent quieter than its predecessor, the CF6. There are more than 2,000 GEnx engines in service for 65 GE customers today, including Air Tahiti Nui.
For now, the Tahiti-to-Paris nonstop was a one-off. As long as L.A. remains closed to international travelers, the carrier is stopping instead in Vancouver, British Columbia, or the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
Because of COVID-19 flight restrictions, Air Tahiti Nui is operating its service to Paris non-stop from Papeete—without its normal stop at LAX.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 15, 2020
This article originally appeared in GE Reports.