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Cathay’s new business class to bring its premium brand to new heights

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways last week launched a new business class that promised to bring the carrier’s premium brand to new heights and be a significant leap regarding its comfort level over its predecessor which has only entered service in 2007.

At first glance, Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat has about the same bed length over its predecessor, which is 1 inch shorter than the successor. However, the usable bed length of the new business class seat is 75 inches, 4 inches longer over the old one, thus making the bed significantly more comfortable.

Critically, one of the new features on Cathay’s new business class seat is the Bed Extension, which deploys automatically when the seat is being turned into a lie-flat bed. According to Aspire Aviation‘s understanding on the matter and talks with insiders, the seemingly insufficient amount of in-seat and bed width on the old business class seats is one of the key drivers pushing Cathay to launch a brand new design.

Therefore, on the new business class seat, the in-seat width has been significantly increased from 18.5 inches to 20.2 inches on an Airbus A330-300 and even to 21 inches on the carrier’s long-haul backbone Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The usable bed width, meanwhile, has been drastically increased from 23.5 inches to as wide as 29.5 inches with its armrest retracted and 26.6 inches with the bed extension feature being deployed on a 777-300ER. On an A330-300 with the new seats which Cathay says will initially be deployed on the Hong Kong-Sydney route from March 2011 onwards, has a bed width of 27.6 inches and 26.4 inches when the armrest is retracted and when the bed extension is featured, respectively.

All Images Courtesy of Cathay Pacific

Furthermore, the new business class seat features a significant larger personal space and the seats are “gently angled towards the windows” and towards a companion traveller, where passengers can dine together with the central cocktail table.

The relatively insufficient amount of personal space, along with those of the seat and bed width on the old seats are the key feedbacks that Cathay has been receiving from lucrative business class passengers since the herringbone design was adopted in 2007, thereby necessitating the launch of a new design.

“Our new flat-bed Business Class seat was developed after listening to what our customers had to say and it will, I believe, underline our commitment to excellence in innovation,” outgoing chief executive Tony Tyler commented.

“These latest product and service enhancements form part of Cathay Pacific’s ongoing investments in the continued development of Hong Kong as one of the world’s leading international aviation hubs,” Tyler added.

Cathay Pacific expects to spend over HK$1 billion (US$128 million) on the cabin upgrade, which is expected to be followed by the launch of a New Premium Economy Class (“Premium economy at Cathay“, 2nd Nov, 10) and New Economy Class early next year, Aspire Aviation‘s source says.

As commented previously, the launch of premium economy class will arguably further enhance Cathay’s premium brand, not decimate it, as its oneworld partner British Airways (BA) has already featured a premium economy class called “World Traveller Plus” for well over a decade and is seen as one of the world’s best premium carriers.

Moreover, a premium economy class is mainly designed to extract the maximum amount of consumer surplus (total use value – total exchange value) and maixmise its revenue stream by using the revenue management system (RMS) and discriminatory pricing which at the same time minimise any potential trade-down from Business Class to Premium Economy, albeit that this risk has too often been exaggerated and the overstated as the price elasticity of demand in this class is more elastic than the business class offering.

Coupled with the new economy class, premium economy class and this superb new business class and the existing award-winning first class, Cathay Pacific will have a strengthened and unrivalled business proposition should they be launched early next year.

Cathay Pacific declined to comment, saying that “we will make an announcement at an appropriate time”.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific says the long-haul A330-300 fleet equipped with the New Business Class “will be progressively deployed to other Australian ports throughout 2011 and 2012 as Cathay Pacific takes new deliveries”.

“The A330-300s already in operation are due to be retrofitted with the new Business Class commencing mid-2012, whereupon the product will be deployed progressively on medium-haul routes,” the airline adds.

The first 777-300ER with the New Business Class, in the meantime, will enter service in April 2011 on flights to New York, Los Angeles and London, and then to Toronto and eventually other European destinations.

“It will be a wrench to go, but I know I will be leaving the company in extremely good hands. John Slosar and I have worked hand in glove over the last three dramatic years – from the highs of 2007, to the lows of 2008 and 2009 to the remarkable comeback in 2010. I have every confidence that he will lead the airline to even bigger and better things, with the support of a team that is quite simply the best in the business,” outgoing chief executive Tony Tyler said in announcing his departure in next year.

Should these “even bigger and better things” be realised, the launch of premium economy class will unquestionably be a cornerstone and one of the drivers behind Cathay’s surging profits, an industry analyst tells Aspire Aviation to expect a significantly higher revenue should it be launched in early 2011 and enter into service in 2012.

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