While Qantas is not expected to take delivery of any new mainline aircraft for some time, it is undertaking major refurbishment programs to ensure that its existing fleet remains competitive.
The airline will soon begin upgrading the interiors of its Airbus A330s, and its Boeing 737-800s also are due to receive a cabin refresh. Meanwhile, the transfer of A330s from the separate Jetstar unit is allowing Qantas to accelerate the retirement of some of its older widebody types and reduce its average aircraft age.
Cabin upgrades for the 28-strong fleet of A330s will occur progressively starting this month, and are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016. The work is being performed at the carrier’s heavy maintenance facility in Brisbane.
The first of the refurbished A330s for the domestic fleet will reenter service in late December, with the first of the international fleet’s A330s expected to be completed in January 2015. Each aircraft will take about one month to finish.
The A330 fleet will soon comprise 18 in domestic configuration and 10 in international. All of the international aircraft will receive new seats throughout—a Thompson Aero Seating lie-flat business-class suite, and Recaro economy-class seat. Both types will have the Panasonic eX3 IFE system, along with streamed content that can be viewed on personal devices. The domestic aircraft will get the new business-class seat, but their existing economy-class seats will be refurbished and retained.
With the Thompson seats, Qantas expects to gain regulatory approval for business-class passengers to recline their seats from takeoff through to landing. The carrier claims such a feature would be a world-first.
The new seats will mean slightly less capacity in business class, however. Currently, Qantas has 30-36 business class seats in its A330s, and this will drop to about 28 after the refurbishment.
Qantas has been boosting its mainline A330 fleet with aircraft transferred from Jetstar, as the low-cost carrier takes delivery of Boeing 787s. These A330s are replacing 767s in the mainline fleet. There are still three more A330s remaining to be transferred, and they will be fitted with the new seats before entering service with Qantas mainline.
As for the Jetstar A330s that have already been incorporated into the mainline fleet, they will be retrofitted with the new cabin product. These aircraft were refurbished as they were transferred, but a Qantas spokeswoman says this work was “cosmetic only,” and not comparable to the full-cabin reconfiguration they will now receive.
While it will be adding the three Jetstar A330s, Qantas also plans to return two A330s as their leases expire. These changes will yield the net total of 28.
The carrier operates a mix of A330-200s and -300s. There has been some crossover between domestic and international fleets in the past, but in the future the -300s will focus on international and the -200s on domestic, says the spokeswoman.
The influx of A330s means that -Qantas will be able to retire its remaining passenger 767-300ERs by the end of the year. The carrier is down to eight 767s, including seven passenger aircraft and one freighter. The freighter is expected to stay in the fleet.
Qantas has operated the 767s on both international and domestic services. The company’s final international 767 flight took place on Sept. 13, and the last domestic flight is scheduled for Dec. 27.
The 767s are all owned, and the carrier says its intention is for them to be sold, either directly to airlines or to leasing companies. Some of the aircraft are destined for Qantas’s new Canadian code-share partner, WestJet.
The expanded A330 fleet also will allow Qantas to phase out more of its Boeing 747-400s. The airline recently accelerated this plan, and intends to retire four of its older 747s by early 2016.
This will leave nine 747s still in service, including six -400ERs and three -400s. The aircraft being retained have recently been through a refurbishment, and are now configured with interiors similar to those in the carrier’s A380 fleet.
As well as the changes in its widebody fleet, Qantas also is refurbishing its Boeing 737-800 domestic fleet. The carrier has 66 737s operating domestically, with another due to be delivered this month. It also has eight that it uses on international flights to New Zealand.
The 737 cabin upgrades are due to begin in mid-2015, and Qantas expects to finish all aircraft within 12 months. The carrier is not yet revealing where the work will be conducted.
While the aircraft will not receive new seats, the existing ones will be refreshed. A streaming entertainment system will be installed on 38 of the aircraft, allowing passengers to view content on their own devices. The other 29 aircraft already have seat-back IFE screens.
Qantas will add an extra six seats in the back of the aircraft by changing the layout of the galleys and lavatories. This will boost capacity in the 737 fleet by 3%.
A version of this article appears in the December 1/8 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.