Finnair will be one of the world’s first airlines to fly the all-new Airbus A350 in 2014, but it’s not about to join the premium economy brigade – even on the longest-haul routes from the edge of Europe across to Asia.
“We are one of the first airlines to get the A350, we have 18 on order and they will be a two-class product with business and economy” says Finnair CEO Mr Mika Vehviläinen of Airbus' competitor to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, both of which employ composite carbon fibre instead of conventional metals in the fuselage and wing structures.
“We are strong believers in a two-class product for simplicity” Vehviläinen told Australian Business Traveller. “We will have a very high level of business class in the A350, and also a very competitive economy class, but we have taken a view so far that we don’t see the advantages of premium economy.”
And while the A350 will of course sport a fully lie-flat bed, Vehviläinen says it won’t be the same seat and design. “There are some interesting new concepts available which we are looking at, but we haven’t made a decision yet.”
Finnair is also planning ahead for a likely mid-life refit of its A350 fleet starting around 2020.
“The average life cycle of a business class seat is between 5-7 years, whereas the aircraft itself can be in service much longer” Vehviläinen says. “In some cases you realise there are some things on the horizon that are not available yet.”
“So you bite the bullet, put in the best possible product available at that time, and then wait for the next iteration”, upgrading to that when the launch product is ready to be retired.
Vehviläinen admits to being somewhat frustrated by the need to lock down configurations so far in advance of the aircraft’s actual arrival.
“It’s a bit irritating in some ways, especially as technology advances so quickly. Frankly I am not amused at how early airlines are forced to make some of those configuration decisions for new aircraft. I’d rather have more flexibility to wait longer and see what’s available. But because of safety requirements and other reasons the planning cycles in aircraft design are quite long, while in some other areas the world moves in a much faster pace.”
It’s this rate of change which sees Finnair looking to ditch fixed in-seat entertainment systems for tablets like the iPad, which may make its debut on the Airbus A350 (see our earlier story).