Cathay Pacific will begin a long-awaited refresh of its regional services from the first half of 2020, with the launch of the Airbus A321neo and a new business class seat.
The airline today mapped out the first stage of the A321neo's rollout, with 16 of the spacious and fuel-efficient jets joining the Cathay Dragon from 2020 to 2022. A Cathay Pacific spokesman tells Executive Traveller that "delivery of the first Airbus A321neo to Cathay Dragon is targeted for the first half of 2020, though this may be subject to change."
Those A321neo aircraft will also mark the debut of a new regional business class seat, although this is expected to follow the same 'premium economy-like' design as the airline's current regional business class, which began flying in January 2013.
That seat borrowed some elements from an angled lie-flat or ‘sloping sleeper’ seat to weave them into the more conventional form of a recliner.
However, while Singapore Airlines is moving to a fully lie-flat seat on its own regional fleet, Cathay Pacific is expected to retain a more conventional design.
“I think it will be most likely reclinable because it is a narrow-body aircraft,” Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Customer Experience & Design, told Executive Traveller in March 2018 at the opening of the airline’s new The Deck lounge at Hong Kong.
“Basically we're still seeing the majority of the flights are below two hours, stretched to four and at most six" – flight durations which Lo suggested did not require the lie-flat luxury of a business class bed.
However, Lo added that "the product for the A321neo will be a next-generational product for Cathay Dragon.”
“The A321neo is a very modern aircraft, with a lot of the technology that our customers love from the A350 in a narrow-body environment.
Airbus rates the A321neo at 206 passengers, with 16 in business class and 190 in economy, and Cathay Pacific has previously indicated that its A321neo jets will have "about 200 seats".
The A321neo fleet will see Cathay Dragon retire its ageing A320 jets, with both a larger passenger capacity to cater for popular destinations such as Beijing and Shanghai, and a longer range to extend the network's reach.
However, the second 16 A321neos on Cathay Pacific's order book are headed for the hangars of low-cost airline HK Express, which Cathay acquired in 2019 for $915 million.
Cathay Pacific today confirmed that as part of a 'fleet optimisation' plan, HK Express will take up the second tranche of A321neo deliveries between 2022 and 2024.
"While Cathay Dragon is our regional full-service carrier," Cathay Pacific Group CEO Augustus Tang said, "HK Express will remain as a standalone, low-cost airline focusing on serving leisure travel destinations."
HK Express' current fleet includes the Airbus A320 and Airbus A321, along with the A320neo, in all-economy configurations.