Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says his airline’s upgrade of business class seats across its Airbus A330 fleet has forced rival Virgin Australia to “scramble” to keep up.
Although Virgin was first to unveil its new business suite at a presentation in Singapore in September, the John Borghetti-led carrier’s first flight with its B/E Aerospace seat will not be until March 2015.
By contrast, Qantas’s new business suite, designed by Thompson Aero Seating in collaboration with Marc Newson and shown off to the world at Sydney Airport on Tuesday, will be in the air by the end of December.
Joyce says five Qantas A330s will feature the new business class seat, which offers all passengers direct aisle access and the ability to be in a reclined position during takeoff and landing (pending Civil Aviation Safety Authority approval), by the time Virgin gets its first aircraft in the sky.
“The great thing about what Qantas has done, we are leading the way with these new suites,” Joyce told reporters at Sydney Airport on Tuesday.
“We had a choice of any suite that we had out there. We could have picked the seat that our competitor chose. It was actually third on our list.”
All of Qantas’s 28 Airbus A330 aircraft – the airline has 10 of the larger -300 model that mainly operate internationally and 18 of the smaller -200 version that feature most prominently between Perth and Australia’s east coast capitals – will be reconfigured with new business and economy seats by the end of 2016.
The seat reconfiguration work will be undertaken at Qantas’s heavy maintenance facility at Brisbane. Service entry is scheduled for a domestic service before the end of 2014, while the first international flight with the new product is due in January 2015.
Meanwhile, Virgin planned to complete the fit out of its six Airbus A330-200s by the end of August 2015. The fitout will include Virgin’s newest A330, which arrived factory fresh from Toulouse, France in September sporting the airline’s existing business class seats.
Joyce said it was Qantas’s upgrade of its A330 business class offering that prompted Virgin to respond.
“It forced our competitor, who has recently taken a new aircraft with new seats on it, to rip those seats off and put new seats in,” Joyce said.
“That’s great that that’s happened. It means less money for other products, less money for lounges, so I am quite happy that Qantas is defining the way and making our competitor scramble to catch up and making our competitor make decisions like that.”
Joyce said the business class cabin will be reduced to 28 seats following the reconfiguration.
Currently, the A330-300 has 30 business class seats, while the A330-200 has 36 seats at the pointy end of the cabin.
“We’ve done some detailed modelling on this and we believe we will be able to meet all of the needs of the commercial business class customers and the upgrades that exist today,” Joyce said.
“There may be some impact at certain times on staff travel but all of our commercial customers will be able to get their places on these aircraft.
“We have no problem with filling up business class seats on the peak services across to Perth. I don’t see that changing.”
Joyce said the flagship Airbus A380 will not be fitted with the new Thompson Vantage XL, given the double-decker superjumbo’s Skybed MKII was “highly competitive on the markets that it is operating on,” primarily the United States, Dubai and London.