Last month, Cathay Pacific received its first Airbus A350-1000 – a bigger and better version of its smaller sister aircraft, the A350-900.
The high-spec A350, a quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft, has been part of Cathay Pacific’s fleet since 2016, and has since been rolled out across the airline’s route network.
As you’d expect from two members of the same family, the two aircraft share many characteristics, including looks, with their distinctive ‘raccoon’ eyes. In fact, up to 90 per cent of all the part numbers in the -900 are replicated in the -1000. You can learn more about the differences in the pop-out picture below.
That said, the difference between the two is more than a simple seven-metre stretch. Some of the parts that aren’t shared are very significant. These include new Rolls-Royce engines that offer more thrust to deal with a 28-tonne heavier maximum take-off weight. These XWB-97 engines turn faster and run hotter than any others in service. To reduce the stress on airport paving, the rear undercarriage now has extra wheels – like the Boeing 777 – to spread the extra weight.
Inside, some differences will be noticeable to passengers. The additional fuselage length is at the front of the aircraft, which means that the Business Class cabin is now integrated between the two forward sets of doors rather than split by them. In the Economy Class cabins there are new seats from a new supplier.
The Airbus A350-1000, too, comes with three cabin classes, so those routes that require a First Class cabin will continue to be served by four-class 777s, until these are replaced by the new Boeing 777-9 from the early 2020s.
It will add capacity to some of the ‘longer and thinner’ routes that the -900 has pioneered, such as the new European destinations.
‘The Airbus A350-1000 is there to give better operating economics on those routes where we’re currently operating Boeing 777s,’ says Paul Barwell, head of fleet and passenger scheduling at Cathay Pacific. ‘Over time, it will start replacing 777s on some long-haul routes.’
The -1000 is a different aircraft ‘type’, and although it shares many of the characteristics of its smaller sister aircraft, the planning, ordering, specifying, inspecting and certification processes were just as detailed as they were for the -900. Cathay Pacific will be the first airline to operate the -1000 into and out of Hong Kong.
Over the past few months, teams at Hong Kong International Airport and Cathay’s outports have been busy checking the parking marks on the tarmac at gates, ensuring ground equipment is in place and that the correct paperwork and permissions are on file. Outports needed stocks of components for maintenance and, crucially, pilots had to be ready to fly the aircraft.
Prior to the aircraft delivery in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific flight test pilots performed a test of handling and systems at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France. The aircraft was then held at the delivery centre for around 10 days, to attend to work that needed to be carried out as a result of a painstaking inspection.
Only then was the aircraft released for the flight home to Hong Kong – but there will be no respite for the onsite team. The inaugural Airbus A350-1000 is one of a continuous stream this year, with one or two new aircraft joining the fleet each month.