Qantas says it is on track to have five of its 28 Airbus A330 fleet fitted with the new business class at the end of March as it deploys the first internationally reconfigured A330-300 aircraft on the Singapore route this weekend.
The city-state is the first international destination to receive what Qantas describes as a “business suite” featuring a fully-flat bed, upgraded seat back entertainment and direct aisle access for each passenger.
Designed by Belfast-based Thomson Aero Seating, the new product also allows passengers to have the seat in a partial recline position during takeoff and landing.
The first Airbus A330-300 with the new product, VH-QPA, took off from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport as Qantas flight QF35 at 1225 local time on Saturday, January 17. The aircraft was due to land at a little after 1600 Singapore time, before returning to Australia as QF82 bound for Sydney.
On Friday, VH-QPA, which has been undergoing the change of seats at Qantas’s Brisbane maintenance facility since December, was taken on a test flight off the coast of Brisbane for two hours and 46 minutes, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.
It then operated QF605, the 0640am scheduled service from Brisbane to Melbourne.
Qantas head of creative development and customer experience Kylie Morris says this initial aircraft will operate on the Singapore route from Melbourne and Sydney.
“We thought that was a real benefit for us, that our customers from both Sydney and Melbourne could experience this product,” Morris told reporters at Sydney Airport on Friday.
“It’s also how we pattern the aircraft because often we don’t have aircraft that just go back and forward, they often do a little bit of a triangle.”
Morris said the current focus was to gradually increase the number of flights to Singapore with the new seats as more reconfigured A330-300s became available and declined to confirm which of Qantas’s Asian ports would be the next to receive service featuring the airline’s newest on-board product.
“Part of our strategy is that we really wanted to get penetration on one route,” Morris said.
“We are really focused on Singapore and then we will look for penetration on other routes as the numbers allow us, but focused on Asia.”
Morris said Qantas expected to have five reconfigured A330s operating by the end of March, comprising three of the smaller A330-200s used domestically and two of the larger A330-300s that operate to Asia and Honolulu.
“We are pushing a lot of aircraft out very fast,” Morris said.
“We are doing the reconfiguration in 30 days which is pretty damn fast.
“By end of March we will have five aircraft.”
The airline was scheduled to have 11 aircraft completed by the end of August, with the entire fleet of 28 A330s to feature the new business, and Recaro-manufactured economy class seats, by the end of 2016.
Virgin Australia was due to complete the refurbishment of the first of its six-strong A330-200 fleet that fly between Perth and east coast capitals by the end of March with the airline’s own new business class.
While the Qantas business suite is already flying domestically, having made its debut on New Year’s Eve when an A330-200 VH-EBV flew from Sydney to Perth, the international and domestic versions have some slight variations.
First, the international seats are in cloth, while the domestic versions have a leather finish.
Second, there maximum degree of recline during take off and landing is a greater on the international seats (25 degrees versus 21 degrees).
To mark the international debut of the business suite, Qantas will offer business passengers a limited edition Oroton amenity kit which has the airline’s grey pajamas already inside. It will only be offered on Qantas international flights from Asia operated by refurbished A330 aircraft.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the launch of the new business class offering was a key plank of boosting the airline’s performance on Asian routes.
“When you combine our investment in lounges with what we’re offering on board our upgraded A330s, it puts Qantas in a very strong position to retain and win customers on key routes to Asia,” Joyce said in a statement on Saturday.
“Our first domestic aircraft has been operating for a little more than two weeks and we have received rave reviews from crew and our passengers.”
Meanwhile, Qantas said a Sleep Sooner initiative for overnight services from Asia would ensure the seats of passengers who indicate at the Qantas lounge a wish to sleep throughout the flight already have their mattress fitted and are in the reclined position when they board the aircraft.