On current indications, it looks as though Qantas rivals Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific could have their early A350-900s flying routes to Australia’s cities for more than year before the flying kangaroo can put its first 787-9s into service.
The latest evidence of this is the first Cathay Pacific A350-900, which has now come together in its major parts, other than the engines, on the final assembly line at Toulouse.
A Singapore Airlines A350-900 is even further advanced at Toulouse and both are expected to be delivered to their owners early in the new year and in service soon after.
This makes the decisions Qantas makes about its Dreamliner cabin design fairly important. Would it really want to follow its Asia market rivals with the most cramped economy class cabin ever seen on scheduled long haul flights to Australia with a nine across format like all other 787 services to this country, a year after their similar format is flying with seats reflecting the wider more comfortable cabin of the A350?
However Qantas could differentiate itself from both its subsidiary Jetstar, and all other 787 operators in this market, by specifying the more humane eight across format as originally proposed by Boeing, which in the formative years of the Dreamliner project, never really believed anyone would ruin their creation with punitive high density seating.
At the moment Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific haven’t put out the fine detail of their A350-900s nor firmly committed to the early routes they will fly. However Singapore Airlines already flies its wholly owned Scoot low fare 787s to Australian cities with the tiny, tiny seats in nine across economy, just as Qantas does with its Jetstar 787s, so doing the same thing in their full service products would seem perverse.
(It is just impossible to do 10 across in a 787, otherwise Jetstar and Scoot would be there already.)
The two Qantas Asia route rivals of SQ and CX also operate 777s to Australia, in the very spacious nine across format rather than the 10 across that has been adopted by so many carriers, and the 777 although noisier than anything else you are likely to fly in for a long distance, is itself wider than an A350.
Looking at all the likely cabin formats that will compete with the Qantas 787s when they arrive (as expected) from the second half of 2017 onwards, a nine across economy configuration layout in a Dreamliner is going to be the least comfortable choice someone flying in any other wide body Airbus or Boeing could make.
There is reason to hope Qantas will break ranks on this. It has invested many millions of dollars in the refurbishments of its domestic and international A330s, in all classes of travel, and for product consistency if nothing else, that quality should therefore extend across its newer 787s, as it will have both of these wide body types in simultaneous service well into the next decade.