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Tue 7 Dec 2010 08:19 PM

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Cathay Pacific revamps Business-Class on competition

Move comes as Singapore Air and Emirates fly their flagship A380s to Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific revamps Business-Class on competition
Cathay will begin flying to Chicago and Abu Dhabi next year, as well as boosting services to New York and Toronto

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, will spend more than $129 million introducing new business class seats to fend off competition for lucrative premium travelers.

The seats, which will debut on Sydney flights in March, will be fitted in 50 long haul planes by February, 2013, the carrier said in a statement today. They will be longer and wider than the carrier’s current units, it said.

Incoming chief executive officer John Slosar will oversee the revamp as Emirates Airline and Singapore Airlines woo Hong Kong travelers with Airbus SAS A380s, and US carriers add China flights on surging economic growth. British Airways and Deutsche Lufthansa have also unveiled new first class cabins this year as travel rebounds from the global recession.

Derek Sadubin, chief operating officer at consultants Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation said: “The premium carriers in this region have to be very mindful of what’s going on in the Middle East.”

He added: “And, there’s obviously some very strong transpacific rivals.”

Cathay will install the new seats in 30 Boeing 777-300ERs and 20 Airbus SAS A330-300, which will fly to markets including Europe, North America, Australia and India. It will also roll out new cabin-crew uniforms as part of the revamp.

In the city Slosar told reporters: “Business-class is an important and challenging market for us.” 

He declined to comment on whether the airline planned to overhaul coach class or add premium economy seating.

The new lie-flat business-class seats have a 75 inch (1.9 meter) usable bed length, 4 inches more than the current units, according to the statement. Slosar slept “very well” on mock ups of the new leather-covered seats, he said.

Cathay is overhauling its business-class offering as Singapore Air and Emirates fly their flagship A380s to Hong Kong. In September, the carrier opened The Cabin, its fourth airport lounge in Hong Kong, which offers Apple iPads and a health bar. It is also working on renovating its main lounge, The Wing.

Emirates, which is building up a fleet of 90 A380s, offers superjumbo business-class passengers a seat that reclines into a 79-inch long bed, up to 1,200 channels of inflight entertainment and access to an onboard lounge. Singapore Air also touts lie- flat seats and access to 120 movies that can be viewed on personal 15.4 inch liquid crystal display screens.

Korean Air Lines, which competes with Cathay on China- US routes, will also begin flying A380s next year as it seeks to boost premium-class sales to 50 percent of overall revenue. United Continental and Delta Air Lines are adding China services, lured by growth in the world’s most populous nation that’s three times the pace in the US.

Cathay, which generates about half of its sales in China and Hong Kong, rose 3.2 percent to close at HK$24.10 in Hong Kong today, before the announcement. The stock has risen 66 percent this year, the best performance on the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Cathay will begin flying to Chicago and Abu Dhabi next year, as well as boosting services to New York and Toronto, as the economic pickup spurs business and leisure travel. Overall, it plans to increase capacity 11 percent. It will also receive a record 15 new planes, including six freighters.

Globally, first and business-class passenger traffic rose 9.2 percent in the first nine months of the year, according to the International Air Transport Association. Overall passenger traffic jumped 8.5 percent through October, with a 10 percent increase in the Asia-Pacific region, the trade group said.

Slosar will take over as Cathay CEO in April from Tony Tyler, who is leaving to become IATA’s director general.

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