Qantas appears set to unveil a radical new-look cabin for its domestic fleet aircraft later this year when the airline takes delivery of its first Boeing 737NG (or 'Next Generation') fitted with Boeing's slick Sky Interior and video screens for every economy seat.
Although Boeing has yet to announce Qantas' purchase of the optional Sky Interior cabin, and a Qantas spokeswoman was "unable to confirm" any details, according to a source inside Qantas the Sky Interior cabins will feature on new deliveries of the Boeing 737-800NG in the second half of this year.
"2011 will see the delivery of 14 new 737-800 aircraft from the Boeing facility in Seattle" the airline is said to have told staff. "Later in the year this will include 737-800s fitted with the new Boeing Sky interior, which is based on the 787 Dreamliner interior."
The Qantas spokeswoman confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that the airline "certainly has more 737-800s on order and (we) expect to welcome 14 to the fleet this year", adding that these would replace its dated 737-400s.
The Boeing-built Sky Interior design represents a major makeover for conventional aircraft interiors by embracing curves and colours to make the cabin lighter and brighter, as well as looking ‘softer’ and more spacious.
The Sky Interior cabin in this Norwegian Air 737-800 shows the curved design and softer ambient LED lighting to good effect
Based on the cabin of the delayed 787 Dreamliner (which Qantas won't see until the end of next year), the Sky Interior performs a neat trick akin to Dr Who’s TARDIS: it makes the 737NG jetliner look much bigger on the inside compared to the current 737s, of which Qantas has 55 in service between the capital cities as well as Cairns, Townsvill and Mount Isa.
The gently sculpted sidewalls feature larger oval window surrounds (shown above) to let in more light.
The overhead luggage compartments have been enlarged but a natty pivot-hinge design and upward-sweeping doors mean they take up less space above the passenger.
The ceiling is finished in a soft sky blue, to convey a greater feeling of space and comfort, with LED lighting which gently changes colour in different cycles throughout the flight. (There's no truth to the rumour that the lights switch into a 'Saturday Night Fever' disco mode during the John Travolta safety video.)
Qantas will fit its standard Marc Newson/Recaro seats to the aircraft. Business class passengers will get a seat that's 22 inches wide with 35 inches of legroom, an adjustable headrest, extendable legrest with foldout footrest, laptop power and a 10.6 inch in-arm video touchscreen.
Economy passengers will find their seats are a tigher 18.1 inches wide with 31 inches of legroom, a 9 inch seatback touchscreen and one laptop power point shared between every two seats.
The Boeing 737 forms the backbone of Qantas' domestic fleet, with a 60-strong mix of first-gen 737-400 Classic jets and the more modern 737-800 Next Generation models fitted with the older cabin. Qantas is believed to have a further 30 737-800NG airliners on order, most of which will come with the Sky Interior cabin.
Qantas' adoption of Sky Interior would undoubtedly help the airline refresh its brand and smarten up its appeal to business travellers, no doubt in response to Virgin Blue's impending assault on the domestic corporate travel market.
However, Virgin Blue has placed an order with Boeing for 50 of the same 737-800NG aircraft (and an option for 55 more) to be delivered starting in June 2011, and these could also turn out to sport the same Sky Interior cabin.
Qantas has recently ramped up investment in its domestic operations including the launch of its Next-Generation Check-In system, a refit for Qantas Business lounges and the introduction of lounge and in-flight menus designed by Neil Perry.
CEO Alan Joyce said yesterday that Qantas was very strong as a domestic airline but the international business, which soaks up most of Qantas' cash, was slowly dying.