Cathay Pacific could swap some or even all of its orders for the Boeing 777X to the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner as the airline looks to both trim its financial commitments and right-size its fleet for the post-coronavirus world.
The Oneworld member has 21 Boeing 777-9 jets due for delivery from 2021, with the jets also earmarked for the debut of new first class suites and business class seats.
However, the size and cost of the 777-9 may no longer fit Cathay Pacific, with the airline reportedly now casting its eye over the smaller and cheaper Boeing 787-10.
According to The South China Morning Post, Cathay Pacific's options also include "lengthy delivery deferrals" to the 777-9s, although a move to the 787-10 "would be consistent with a desire to reduce capital expenditure amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, with new plane purchases by far the biggest cost for Hong Kong’s de facto flag carrier."
Impact on new first, business class
A switch also has the potential to set back Cathay's plans to introduce new first class suites and business class seats with the debut of the 777-9, depending on how closely they were designed with that specific jet in mind, as the cabin of the Boeing 787-10 is a half-metre narrower.
In June 2018, Cathay Pacific's then- CEO Rupert Hogg confirmed to Executive Traveller that mock-ups for its new first class suites were already being tested, with high-walled private cribs and the more open design of the current Boeing 777 first class suites both under consideration.
Even if the same suites could be fitted to a Boeing 787-10, the smaller Dreamliner – which is rated for 330 seats in a standard two-class configuration, compared to 426 seats for the Boeing 777-9 – could see it forego a first class cabin or have it pared back to a single row.
Less is known about Cathay's next-gen international business class seat, which could be a further evolution of the current seat or an all-new design – although the airline is unlikely to abandon the angled layout which has become so popular its travellers.
Hard-hit by COVID-19
Cathay Pacific has been particularly exposed to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline's international routes are funnelled through its busy Hong Kong hub, while Cathay Pacific and its regional arm Cathay Dragon also maintained an extensive network of 368 flights per week to 23 destinations across mainland China.
The Oneworld member began cutting back flights in mid-February, and although the primary focus was on mainland China, the airline's worldwide capacity at the time was wound back by around 30%.
It has since slashed its worldwide network to a mere dozen destinations, most of which see only three flights per week, in what Cathay Pacific Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam has described as "a bare skeleton passenger flight schedule", cautioning this could contract even further in line with travel restrictions "imposed by governments around the world, which will further dampen passenger demand."
Hong Kong has been closed to visitors and transit passengers since March 25, making it even hard for Cathay Pacific to continue its traditional role as a hub-based airline with passengers changing flights at Hong Kong Airport.
Although the ban was tentatively put in place until April 7, it's now been extended indefinitely.
Even those who are permitted to enter Hong Kong must visit the nearby AsiaWorld Expo site for COVID-19 testing, before proceeding to their home for the mandatory 14 day quarantine period.