Although Cathay Pacific’s new Boeing 777-9 jets are at least four years away, development of the 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 (codenamed FB2) – which in turn was based on the benchmark Cirrus platform pioneered by JPA…
… along with Cathay’s latest Airbus A321neo regional business class, which is now flying on selected routes across mainland China and Taiwan.
JPA’s airline portfolio also includes Japan Airlines’ Boeing 777 first class and business class, and Finnair’s Airbus A350 business class refresh, 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.
So where do Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-9s fit into the frame?
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 will also see new 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.
In the case of Cathay Pacific, delivery of the Boeing 777-9 was due to commence this year and stretch through to 2024.
However, Boeing’s delays to the 777X program (which covers the flagship 777-9 and the smaller but longer-range 777-8) and the economic impact of Covid-19 on Cathay Pacific saw Cathay push back the delivery of its entire 21-jet order – worth over US$7 billion at list prices – to “beyond 2025”.
Approached by Executive Traveller about the Boeing 777-9 project, both JPA Design and Cathay Pacific declined to comment.
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-9 first class
As far back as mid-2018, Cathay Pacific confirmed that confirmed that its Boeing 777-9s would be crowned by an all-new first class cabin, to replace the current Boeing 777-300ER design which debuted in 2007, with subsequent refreshes in 2013 and 2017.
Cathay Pacific is understood to have worked through a range of mock-ups, from high-walled private havens to 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 laying more towards private 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 Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-9 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.”
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-9 business class
The Boeing 777-9 was also intended to serve as the launchpad for a new business class experience.
Cathay Pacific's current Airbus A350 business class seat is based on an improved version of JPA’s original FB2 design from 2011: more than a decade on, is it time for a continued evolution of that, 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 the popular angled seating layout for a forward-facing orientation.
Cathay Pacific’s amazing Boeing 777 first class concepts
As previously reported by Executive Traveller, Cathay Pacific also entertained a series of first class concepts as far back as 2014 which could have ended up on both the Boeing 777-300 and 777-9 fleets.
European design agency Yellow Window was among the firms shortlisted, and it submitted two approaches “inspired by a revisited Asian culture and a subtle quest for balance and harmony.”
The first was this elongated suite, which formed a luxury cocoon for Cathay’s first class flyers.
Yellow Window followed Cathay’s established 1-1-1 first class layout, putting one suite at either side of the cabin and one in the middle.
Although this puts the suites in an open configuration by default, a ‘window shade’ dropped down from the ceiling to provide privacy as needed.
If the design seems familiar, that’s because Yellow Window also designed the initial concept for Air France’s Boeing 777-300ER La Première first class suites.
This was adopted by BE Aerospace and styled by PriestmanGoode to evoke “sophisticated French luxury for international travel”, with plush curtains transforming the suite into a sky-high boudoir.
Yellow Window’s second exploration for Cathay Pacific used the Boeing 777's cabin cross-section to create pairs of extra-large first class suites.