Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-9 first, business class
The Boeing 777-9 jets are still several years away, but Cathay’s next-gen suites and seats are already taking shape.
Cathay Pacific is among the many airlines to have ordered the Boeing 777X – specifically, the 777-9 model (sometimes also called the 777-9X) – as its future flagship for long-range flights.
There’s still some years to go before Cathay takes delivery of its first 777-9, but we’re here to keep you up to date with the latest news on the Cathay Pacific Boeing 777X, including what’s planned for the all-new 777X first class and business class.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777X orders, delivery
Cathay Pacific has 21 Boeing 777-9 jetliners on order, worth over US$7 billion at list prices , with deliveries initially slated to begin in 2021 and stream through to 2024.
However, a series of production delays to Boeing’s 777X program (which covers the large 777-9 and the smaller but longer-range 777-8) has pushed back the 777-9’s debut to 2024, to the ongoing annoyance of many airlines.
Faced with a longer wait than expected, and combined with the economic impact of Covid-19 and Hong Kong’s extended border closure, Cathay Pacific Group Chairman Patrick Healy announced in October 2020 “the delivery of the 777-9 fleet has been postponed beyond 2025”.
Even if Cathay picks up the keys to its first 777X sometime in 2026, applying the previous three-year delivery window for all 21 jets would mean the last of the 777-9s would arrive at the Hong Kong hangar at the end of this decade.
But Cathay faces similar challenges as other airlines which were relying on the Boeing 777-9 to launch a next generation of first and business class: the risk of their current current products falling behind in what’s always been a hyper-competitive market.
Lufthansa, which remains a launch customer for the Boeing 777-9, decided it could wait no longer and will instead begin flying its latest Allegris first class and business class on Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 jets this year.
“In terms of thinking, planning, the work, that's definitely something we consider,” admits Vivian Lo, Cathay’s General Manager for Customer Experience & Design.
And Cathay’s current A350 business class “despite not having a door, is still very private because of the 3D shape, so I think among the non-door product this is still a very good one.”
“Whether we think that the door will be important, this is something that we are looking into and will continue to look at again,” Lo tells Executive Traveller, before adding a guarded “but no comment for now.”
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777X first class
As far back as mid-2018, Cathay Pacific confirmed its Boeing 777-9s would be crowned by an all-new first class.
This would replace the airline’s current Boeing 777-300ER first class, which debuted in 2007 – making it almost 20 years old by the time the first Cathay 777x takes wing (although the 777-300ER first suites were revamped in 2013 and2017, followed by a ‘soft product’ refresh from late 2019).
Cathay Pacific is understood to have worked through a range of mock-ups, from high-walled private havens with sliding doors to something embracing the more open design of the current first class suites.
“We’re building models and testing different concepts, but we haven’t finalised it yet,” Cathay’s then-CEO Rupert Hogg told Executive Traveller in June 2018. “We spend a lot of time on product design and testing.”
Asked if Cathay was leaning more towards sliding doors vs open suites, Hogg said “that’s the debate right now – although I won’t tell you which side of that debate we’re on, mainly because it’s not over.”
As to how many first class suites the Cathay 777x would have – the same count of six as the Boeing 777-300ERs, or more, or even fewer – “we’re working through that” by studying demand trends, Hogg said at the time.
“Demand for first class falls into three segments,” he explained. “There’s a corporate first class market, by and large that’s shrinking because the number of companies that offer first class travel are reducing.”
“There is a personal demand for first class, by very wealthy individuals, and that market is quite buoyant, and first class is also part of the reward program for a lot of people.”
“So it’s about getting the balance right as to how many seats you have for all of those segments.”
And while demand has no doubt changed under the cloud of Covid, industry predictions from the likes of Airbus, Boeing, KPMG and McKinsey predict that travel will have returned to 2019 levels in 2024-2025, which is only slightly ahead of when Cathay expects to begin taking delivery of its 777-9 jets.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777X business class
The Boeing 777-9 was also intended to serve as the launchpad for a new business class experience.
Cathay Pacific’s latest business class seat on the Airbus A350 is an improved version of the original Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 design (codenamed FB2) from 2011.
But after more than a decade in the skies, is it time for a continued evolution of this seat – a third generation of the largely-popular platform – or are we due for a sweeping revolution of Cathay’s business class experience?
In recent years, Cathay Pacific was known to have been in ‘deep evaluation’ of several concepts, including at least one which swapped this angled seating layout for a forward-facing orientation. However, nothing of substance has surfaced.
JPA Design is developing Cathay’s 777X cabins
What we do know is that development of the Cathay 777X first class suites and business class seats is underway, and it appears that feted firm JPA Design will be behind the next-generation products.
JPA’s relationship with Cathay Pacific stretches back to the carrier’s 2011 Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 business class, which in turn was based on the benchmark Cirrus platform pioneered by JPA.
The highly-regarded firm was also behind Cathay’s latest Airbus A321neo regional business class.
JPA’s airline portfolio also includes Japan Airlines’ Boeing 777 first class and business class, although its most high-profile airline work would be for steadfast customer Singapore Airlines.
This spanned from Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 747 first class to the Boeing 777 first class and business class upgrades of 2013...
... and both the 2007 and 2017 iterations of SQ’s Airbus A380 superjumbo business class.
In other words, JPA has plenty of cred when it comes to premium cabins – and a page on JPA’s website lists one of the firm’s current and “Confidential” projects as “Cathay Pacific – Future aircraft cabins.”
Under the heading of “Creating the future of Cathay Pacific’s inflight experience” the page confirms “We have partnered with Cathay Pacific to design and develop their next generation of aircraft cabin interiors.”
This indicates an exhaustive tip-to-tail effort which is likely to also see new 777X versions of Cathay’s premium economy and economy seats – and JPA is no stranger to either class, again counting Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines among clients for those cabins.
Indeed, much of JPA’s airline work has encompassed the interior design of the entire aircraft, beyond ‘just’ seats, as airlines strive to create a unique aesthetic within each travel class as well as an overall environment that’s both passenger-friendly and on-brand.
Such work is signed off several years before the actual aircraft is delivered, which again lines up with Cathay’s Boeing 777X delivery schedule.
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