Cathay Pacific expects most of its Australian flights to be running on the airline's new Airbus A350 jets by 2019.
The move will see the current Airbus A330s replaced by A350s with improved business class, premium economy and economy seats, along with inflight Internet and an overall more comfortable ride to Hong Kong and back.
"The Airbus A350s will eventually replace all the A330s over the next two years or so throughout our region" says Nelson Chin, Cathay Pacific's Regional General Manager for South West Pacific.
The Oneworld airline signed on the dotted line for 22 Airbus A350-900s and has already taken delivery of the first 11, "with another 11 coming this year" Chin tells Australian Business Traveller. "We expect that by end of this year we will have all 22 aircraft."
In addition to appearing in most Australian cities the expanded A350 fleet will also serve "some of the long-haul destinations like Vancouver" says Chin, "and also some European ports (which are) traditionally the smaller secondary routes... we're looking at the likes of Madrid and Zurich."
A350s for Melbourne, Brisbane and beyond
Cathay began flying the A350 to Melbourne this month, with Brisbane to follow from March 26, and expects more A350 announcements to come over the course of this year.
Chin tells Australian Business Traveller that Melbourne's launch of A350 flights has seen "a very good response" from passengers.
"All our A350s to from Melbourne are very full, especially in the front end... business class and premium economy are an improvement from the A330s and Boeing 777s."
"We have also seen a very good uptake of people wanting to use the internet, the signal by and large is quite stable and fast enough for browsing and email, and that's a huge win for us. (Inflight Internet) really works well for medium or long haul routes."
However, several Australian routes are also likely to see Cathay's flagship Boeing 777-300ER jets used to beat the current restrictions on the number of flights into Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, which are capped at 70 flights per week.
Sydney already has two of its four daily CX flights running on the big Boeing, which offers almost a hundred seats more than the Airbus A330, with Melbourne seeing an A330-to-B777 swap from March 1 on CX163/CX178.
No Cathay Dragon for Cairns
Chin qualifies that some Airbus A330s may remain in the mix post-2019 if they're better suited to a specific route than the larger A350 – a move made easier by the increased number of A350s in the Cathay fleet.
"As we bring in more A350s there will be more A330s to go around" Chin notes, although he defused speculation that Cathay's regional arm Cathay Dragon – formerly Dragonair – was lining up to take over Airbus A330 flights between Hong Kong and Cairns, on Queensland's far north coast, and decouple these from the current Hong Kong-Cairns-Brisbane 'tag' route.
"By and large we resort to CathayDragon for the more regional routes from Hong Kong where customers may prefer a more 'Asian flavour' in terms of product and service offering."
"For Cairns we have a good mix of tourists fed in through the network, not just Asians but Europeans and North Americans," Chin explains, adding that "as Australia is more medium to long-haul, I believe it's more likely than not (Cairns) will be served by Cathay Pacific."
Chin added that "there is no decisions on a 'detag' (separating Cairns flights from Brisbane), but certainly we are looking to have a better offering for Cairns and Brisbane, as we do for the rest of our cities."