Cathay Pacific’s A330 business class “retrofit”

What’s in store for Cathay’s fleet of A330 workhorses?

By David Flynn, September 11 2023
Cathay Pacific’s A330 business class “retrofit”

Cathay Pacific already has a new Boeing 777 business class and Boeing 777 first class on the way, but the airline isn’t overlooking its Airbus A330 workhorses.

These twin-aisle jets dominate short to medium-range routes across Asia and have spread their wings as far as Australia.

While most sport Cathay’s second-generation lie-flat bed (which was later refined for the A350 fleet), only some of these have premium economy – the others are in a simplified two-class layout better suited to short flights within Asia where there’s little demand for premium economy.

Cathay's second-gen A330 business class.
Cathay's second-gen A330 business class.

According to Bloomberg transport reporter Danny Lee, Cathay Pacific CEO Ronald Lam has confirmed the airline “plans with some ‘urgency’ to retrofit the cabins on its Airbus A330 jets.”

“With a high number of configurations, CEO Ronald Lam hints strongly at simplifying the number” of layouts, Lee notes.

Ellis Taylor, from airline data and analytics firm Cirium, notes the airline is now flying its A330s in as many as five configurations with varying numbers of business class, premium economy and economy seats, totalling anywhere from 251 to 317 seats.

Cathay's fleet-wire rethink could see fewer A330s with a premium economy cabin.
Cathay's fleet-wire rethink could see fewer A330s with a premium economy cabin.

Rationalising that mix would make it easier for Cathay to transfer aircraft between routes or swap in another jet when once is grounded for technical reasons, while also minimising the impact on passengers which can result in downgrades from business class to premium economy or economy.

Lam’s comments have also sparked speculation that some A330s might inherit the same regional business class recliners as Cathay’s A321neo jets, rather than keep their lie-flat beds.

Many travellers would hate to loose the A330's lie-flat beds on overnight flights within Asia.
Many travellers would hate to loose the A330's lie-flat beds on overnight flights within Asia.

This would have shades of the A330s previously flown by Cathay’s regional arm Dragonair (later rebranded as Cathay Dragon before being absorbed into its parent airline in October 2020), which also sported Cathay’s regional business class recliners on routes to the likes of Singapore, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

There’s been no indication from Cathay Pacific of plans to replace its current A330 business class with a newer seat.

However, the airline is playing its cards very close to its chest: when approached by Executive Traveller, a Cathay Pacific spokesperson declined to comment or offer more details, saying only "we will share more information at the appropriate time.”

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 156

"While all sport Cathay’s second-generation lie-flat bed..."

Unless I'm misunderstanding, this is not correct. Cathay still runs A330's with 2x2x2 business class recliner seating. For example, of the 5 daily HKG to Manila flights, 4 are on A330's with recliner seats only. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2553

Hi Hakkinen5 - yes, you're actually correct on that score, if I remember correctly that actually goes back to some of the Dragonair and later Cathay Dragon A330s too. Article updated to reflect this. 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 407

Very interesting. Could this mean a mid-life refresh of Cathay's A330 business class? I'm not sure the airline has the budget for that when you think about the massive losses sustained across 2020-2022 plus the upcoming capex hit for the 777 Aria business class plus those 777-9 deliveries. And does it really need a new business class on the A330s? What they have right now is pretty decent, especially on these short-medium haul routes. I'd agree that premium economy cabins will be dropped from a lot of A330s, I suspect in the end we'll end up with two CX A330 configs, one being three-class and the other two-class.

Replacing the current A330 international business class with the A321neo business class would be good for Cathay's bottom line in terms of higher passenger density, you'd get six seats per row instead of four and the tighter pitch might allow for an extra row or two, BUT passengers would be the losers here, especially on flights where the schedule means you want that flat bed in 1-2-1 business class so you can sleep. And this in turn might be Cathay's loss if those business class travellers decide to fly on a competitor on the same route within Asia, such as SQ, Eva, Starlux or China Airlines, ANA or JAL.

12 Feb 2013

Total posts 48

The 33K (ones with premium economy) aren’t in active service and are gradually being converted to 33J (two class, but retaining the flat beds) and most are deployed on regional routes such as Penang, Fukuoka and some mainland China destinations. These (and the 33E with slightly more business seats) ones are the best ones for an upgrade as they have flat bed business class but no premium economy cabins.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 232

Good info, thanks cxflyer. I hope CX won't put its A321neo business class into the A330s, it's an expensive exercise and they'd also remove all the A330 economy seats so the whole plane gets the A321neo treatment with the same IFE, features etc. So yes, CX gets an uplift in the number of business class seats it can sell on these planes but there's definitely the risk of losing those premium passengers to the competition who can give them a proper lie flat business class seat with aisle access.

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