Qantas has exercised options for an additional six Boeing 787-9s, which will bring to 14 the number of the type in the fleet and lead to the withdrawal of the 747 in 2020.
The airline said on Wednesday the six additional 787-9s would arrive between “late 2019 and mid-to-late 2020”.
Currently, Qantas has four 787-9s which are used to operate a Los Angeles-Melbourne-Perth-London Heathrow rotation.
It has four more on firm order due to arrive by the end of 2018. That will allow four aircraft to be based in Brisbane and to replace 747-operated services between Brisbane and Los Angeles, as well as between Los Angeles and New York JFK.
Qantas said the additional six on order would replace its last six 747-400s by the 2020.
“This really is the end of one era and the start of another,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said in a statement.
“The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we’ve flown almost every type that Boeing built.
“Over the years, each new version of the 747 allowed Qantas to fly further and improve what we offered passengers. The Dreamliners are now doing the same thing.
“The 787 has better economics and a longer range, and it has already opened up new routes like Perth to London. With a larger fleet of Dreamliners, we’ll be looking at destinations in the Americas, Asia, South Africa and Europe.”
Joyce said it was fitting that the retirement of the last 747 would coincide with the airline’s centenary in 2020.
“By the end of 2020 we’ll have farewelled the 747, finished upgrading the cabins of our A380s, and welcomed our fourteenth 787,” Joyce said.
“That’s a great proposition for our customers and creates some really exciting opportunities for our people,” he added.
Qantas has 10 747-400s currently in service, comprising six GE-powered 747-400ERs (VH-OEE thru OEJ) delivered between 2002 and 2003, a single GE-powered 747-48E (VH-OEB, built for Asiana in 1993 and acquired by Qantas in 1998) and three RR-powered 747-438s (VH-OJS, OJT and OJU) delivered in 1999-2000. The airline says it will “steadily” retire the 747 “between July this year and the end of 2020”.
— Qantas (@Qantas) May 1, 2018
Qantas said the additional six 787-9s would feature the same cabin configuration as the Dreamliners currently in service, with 236 seats comprising 42 in business in a 1-2-1 configuration offering direct aisle access for every passenger, 28 in premium economy laid out 2-3-2 across and 166 in economy in a 3-3-3 layout with 32in seat pitch and 17.2in seat width.
By contrast its 747-400s have 364 seats comprising 58 SkyBed seats in business, 36 seats premium economy and 270 in economy.
Despite the reduction in seat capacity, the airline said “the reduced maintenance needs of the 787 plus more efficient aircraft patterning and reduced payload restrictions on long routes mean the actual impact on overall capacity for Qantas International is expected to be negligible”.
QANTAS ON TRACK FOR PROFIT GROWTH
Meanwhile, the airline group said in a trading update on Wednesday underlying profit before tax (PBT) – which excludes one-off items and which it regards as the best indication of financial performance – is forecast to be in the range of $1.55 billion and $1.6 billion for the 12 months to June 30 2018.
If the result is in line with guidance, it would represent an improvement of up to 14 per cent from underlying PBT of $1.40 billion in 2016/17.
Qantas’s market update said revenue across the airline group for the three months to March 31 2018 was $4.25 billion, up 7.5 per cent compared with the prior corresponding period.
Meanwhile, revenue per available seat kilometre (RASK), which is a measure of demand, was up six per cent.
“We’re seeing solid results from each of our business units, which is a reflection of broadly positive trading conditions and the work we’ve done to strengthen the Group,” Joyce said.
“A large part of our earnings momentum is driven by ongoing investment in customer experience. Improvements to aircraft interiors, rollout of free wi-fi, changes to our route network and lounge upgrades are why Qantas and Jetstar have a strong place in the market.
“We’ve also continued to broaden our earning streams with health insurance and financial services under Qantas Loyalty.
“Our strong performance allows us to invest in more Dreamliners, which are a lot more efficient than the 747s they replace and give our customers a better experience. They also open up new network options and will be an important part of our success moving forward.”