(Update 30 OCTOBER 2017: China Airlines has apparently halted retrofit plans for the A330-300s in favor of leasing and ordering new aircraft instead. According to media reports, the airline is planning on placing orders for regional wide-bodies in two years [late-2019].)
China Airlines is actively planning the refurbishment of its Airbus A330-300 fleet. According to its annual report for investors, the Taiwanese national carrier will carry out a retrofit program for the regional wide-body over the upcoming years. Additional information obtained by >talkairlines indicates that new cabin products will be installed on 14 self-owned A330. The first retrofitted A330 is expected to roll out 2Q 2017 with 30 angled lie-flat seats in Business Class and 277 ergonomically designed seats in Economy Class. Fleet overhaul is expected to be done at a rate of one aircraft per month. Exact schedules have yet to be released and the times/figures will likely be drastically amended in the future.
ENHANCING COMPETITIVENESS IN PRODUCT OFFERINGS
Cabin upgrades on the older A330s are crucial as China Airlines is gradually losing competitiveness on certain cut-throat markets. On the highly profitable premium-heavy routes from Taipei-Songshan to Tokyo-Haneda and Shanghai-Hongqiao, the A330 utilized can be up to 12 years-old. On these decade-old planes, not only are cabin products old and outdated (i.e. Weber 7800 recliner Business Class seats and small IFE screens), hardware-malfunctions are also frequent. Many competitors on the routes, such as ANA All Nippon Airways and EVA Airways, offer newer aircraft and better seat-products.
A330 CONFIGURATION TO BE UNIFORMED
China Airlines received its first A330-300, part of a 14-aircraft order, back in July 2004. The first generation layout consists of 36 seats in Business Class (then marketed as Dynasty Supreme Class) and 277 seats in Economy Class. As the A330 later started operating routes to Oceania and Europe, China Airlines reconfigured 6 aircraft, in which 6 Business Class seats are removed for wider seat pitch, to increase passenger comfort on long-haul routes.
Over the past decade, China Airlines leased 10 additional A330 (excluding returned ones). Currently, the carrier operates 24 A330 with two cabin layouts:
- 12 medium-haul 313-seater
- 36 Business Class seats and 277 Economy Class seats
- 8 self-owned (B-18301~B-18309) and 4 leased (B-18351~B-18355)
- All with first generation cabin products
- 36 Business Class recliner seats (Zodiac US/ Weber 7800 model) with 10.4-inch PTV
- 277 Economy Class seats (Zodiac France/ Sicma 2300-series) with 6.5-inch PTV
- 12 long-haul 307-seater
- 6 self-owned (B-18310~B-18317) and 6 leased (B-18356~B-18361)
- Self-owned jets have first generation cabin products
- Leased ones have new cabin products designed by LIFT Aero
- 30 Business Class angled lie-flat seats (Zodiac US/ Weber 7811 model) with 15.4-inch PTV
- 277 Economy Class seats (Zodiac US/ Weber 5751) with 9-inch PTV
POSSIBLE SEAT COVER REPLACEMENT FOR 4 LEASED AIRCRAFT
At the moment, only the self-owned A330s are included in the refurbishment program. Of the leased A330, 6 long-haul ones are relatively new and do not require upgrades. The 4 medium-haul A330 will not be modified as the planes will be returned in a handful of years. (The 4 leasing contracts end between Feb 2018 and Nov 2022) However, they may be having seat covers replaced with new LIFT-designed ones. (Seat covers of the Boeing 737 fleet are rapidly being replaced.) Eventually, the fleet will have a single 307-seat layout.
Though not specified, it is likely that the upgraded A330 will have products that come in line with those on the 6 leased long-haul A330. It is unclear whether in-flight connectivity will be offered on these aircraft. (Wi-Fi service is available on the Boeing 777-300ER and the to-be-delivered Airbus A350-900XWB.) Certain is that no Premium Economy Class products will be installed. This is understandable as the A350 will gradually takeover the long-haul operations of the A330. Premium Economy products are more distinguishable from Economy products on longer routes.
EVA AIR: NEW PRODUCTS ON LATEST A330-300
Eariler this year, EVA Airways, one of the primary competitors of China Airlines, unveiled the latest version of its Premium Laurel Class product on its newly delivered A330-300. Utilizing the Parallel Diamond model from B/E Aerospace (Rockwell Collins/ United Technologies), EVA Airways now offers Business Class seats convertible to fully flat beds in a 2-2-2 layout. With 18-inch PTVs, touchscreen controllers, and liftable armrests, the new lie-flat product pose serious threats to China Airlines in the premium regional market.
Another competitor from Taiwan is Transasia Airways. Its A330s, though to be phased out soon, feature the Zodiac/ Weber 7811 model in Business Class. Across the Taiwan Strait, Cathay Pacific has products that range from recliner seats (regional) to fully lie-flat seats (long-haul) in Business Class. Both are deployed on routes competing with China Airlines.