airliner designs

Aug 22, 2017

Your future flights to China might be in a narrow tube

Cathay Pacific, and maybe Swiss, signal that they aren't waiting for Boeing's NMA or MoM or whatever it might be

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Will this Cathay Dragon A321 NEO torch secondary routes to Australia one day?

Although the MoU just signed  by Cathay Pacific for 32 Airbus A321NEOs for its Cathay Dragon subsidiary is for fleet renewal, the door for using some of them for the main carrier’s future services has been left ajar.

This might worry some travellers with memories of flying in long tube like cabins on Boeing 757s, but what happens if or when these high technology versions of the largest member of the Airbus single aisle family comes into service on routes that include this part of the world clearly depends on how the Cathay Pacific group configures them.

Some of the commentary coming out of the group has been encouraging, referring to its commitment to quality as well as value, even if in business class, the seat mightn’t be a fully flat sleeper.

(Although as American and JetBlue have shown, you can put a sleeper seat in an A321, as they do on very low capacity versions of the jet used on US mainland transcontinental routes.)

The cost reduction benefits of the A321NEO have made it the leader in its class of single aisle jets, carrying in some configurations more than 240 seats, which is (hopefully) not what Cathay Pacific or its fire breathing subsidiary would ever contemplate.

While the intended order is primarily couched as fleet renewal, the possible use of a longer range version of the type further into this market  would be constrained by the chronic lack of slots at Hong Airport in its two runway format of today, and for that matter at Sydney Airport, although in 10 years time, Sydney West might offer a good berth for the type.

Airlines are rallying toward the A321NEOs. Swiss is reported elsewhere today as considering ordering some for its longer but ‘thinner’ routes, and the likes of Norwegian have already shown they intend to make single aisle long haul work extensively across the North Atlantic routes between the eastern US and Canadian cities and western Europe.

Air New Zealand has already decided to take A321NEOs (and more are rumored to be under consideration) and Hawaiian has ordered the type, although not it seems with a view to flying any of them between here and say, American Samoa.

This is part of the Cathay Pacific group announcement:

New A321neo aircraft will replace and modernise Cathay Dragon’s current in-service fleet of 15 A320s and eight A321s, with the additional aircraft allowing the airline to capture growth opportunities in the region.

The Cathay Dragon network currently covers 56 Asian destinations, including 28 in mainland China.

Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Officer and Cathay Dragon Chairman Rupert Hogg said: “The Airbus fleet has been serving Cathay Dragon well over the decades. With the A321neo we expect to benefit from a very significant increase in operating efficiency, while increasing capacity in the Cathay Dragon network in order to expand our reach to more customers.”

He added: “The intention to purchase these 32 environmentally-friendly aircraft will allow us to add new destinations to Cathay Dragon’s network, increase frequency on some of our most popular routes and expand our network in the region in order to provide more travel choices and convenience to our customers.”

John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer, Customers said: “Airbus is proud to have been selected to supply Cathay Dragon’s future single-aisle fleet. This is another major endorsement of the A321neo as the aircraft of choice in the middle-of-the-market segment.”


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7 thoughts on “Your future flights to China might be in a narrow tube

  1. 124C4U

    With all the fears about terrorism now being raised there probably won’t be many people flying anywhere soon.
    Anyone want to buy some QANTAS shares?

  2. comet

    Is a narrow tube that bad?

    It can’t be worse than a 787.

    1. Dan Dair

      I agree with you…..
      There’s absolutely no possibility of trying to cram-in a seventh seat any where, so the seat-width we’ve always had will continue to be the case.?
      As regards pitch & legroom, they’ve got to be at or close to the minimum possible before the FAA or EASA start to look at whether the type warrants a brand-new evacuation certification.? It’s probably never been re-certified since the first A320 was brought onto the market 30 years ago.?

      I imagine the the designers at Airbus already have a plan to put a couple more frames into the fuselage for a 12-18 seat increase, if the market wants it.? I’d expect it to come with a commensurate range-penalty, if they were to produce it.?

  3. nonscenic

    Maybe Cathay’s Dragon is looking to compete with the other Chinese airlines for more direct options from Chinese cities to medium haul Asian and Australian centres, thus avoiding the gateway nightmares of Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
    It could still maintain its operations centre in Hong Kong by flying a local sector say Hong Kong to Chongching then using the next leg to an international destination such as Brisbane.
    There will be plenty of customers happy to avoid Hong Kong just as there are many Qantas customers in Melbourne happy to avoid Sydney.

    1. JW (aka James Wilson)

      Nonscenic, Cathay Dragon does not have the traffic rights to fly from mainland China airports direct to ‘medium haul Asian and Australian centres’. Although Hong Kong now belongs to China, the HKSAR government negotiates its own air services agreements with other countries, under Article 133 of the Basic Law. Consequently, Hong Kong is treated as a separate jurisdiction to China and flights between the two are treated as international, not domestic. The air services agreements between Hong Kong and other countries all state: ‘No point in the mainland of China may be served as an intermediate point or a point beyond’.

      1. nonscenic

        I wasn’t aware of that restriction. It certainly puts Cathay in a poor strategic position relative to the Chinese airlines.

  4. Zarathrusta

    I flew on an American Airlines A321T, the T being their own addition for Transcontinental I guess. I wasn’t in premium class but was able to put my A4 book between my knees and the seat in front of me (short end facing the window). Now that was comfortable.

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