Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Newest airliner heading for Auckland

The Airbus A350 XWB test aircraft during its stopover at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Airbus A350 XWB test aircraft during its stopover at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Cathay Pacific is on track to be the first airline to fly the world's newest widebody aircraft on scheduled services to New Zealand.

The airline says the Airbus A350XWB will start flying between Hong Kong and Auckland later this year.

The A350 - which competes against Boeing's Dreamliner and 777 - is the latest of the new generation aircraft that makes extensive use of carbon fibre and is claimed to be 25 per cent more fuel efficient than older equivalent planes.

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Cathay Pacific's country manager for New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Mark Pirihi, said the plane would have an all new cabin design with newly designed seats.

"The A350 will have a completely new business, premium economy, and economy class, with all new seats. There are some other new developments in the pipeline that we are eager to announce soon," Pirihi said.

While there has been a holdup with the cabin fitout of the airline's first XWB, the plane is due to start the route in the second half of this year.

The A350 (XWB stands for extra wide body) will replace the Airbus A340 which has been on the Auckland-Hong Kong route for several years.

The longer the route, the more benefit you get from a fuel-saving aircraft like the A350, which is much more cost-efficient per seat than the other aircraft we have.

Cathay has ordered 22 of the twin-engine A350-900 model of the plane that will be used on the New Zealand route. Airbus says it can carry between 315 and 440 passengers depending on the configuration. It typically seats 325.

More than 70 per cent of the A350 is made of advanced materials, combining 58 per cent of composite structures with titanium and advanced alloys for lower fuel consumption and easier maintenance.

Airbus says the extra wide fuselage allows more headroom, wider windows and larger overhead storage. The airline's regional general manager Nelson Chin told Australian Business Traveller that Auckland scored top billing for the A350's regional launch because the long route - 9153km - was better suited to the A350's fuel economy than shorter Australian runs.

Cathay Pacific's Airbus A350-900.
Cathay Pacific's Airbus A350-900.

"Fuel costs have have gone down but it still matters greatly in terms of overall costs." Chin said. "So the longer the route, the more benefit you get from a fuel-saving aircraft like the A350, which is much more cost-efficient per seat than the other aircraft we have."

Capa centre for aviation says the first of Cathay's A350s could be delayed due to the manufacturing of business class seats by cabin fitout firm Zodiac.

The first Cathay A350 was originally expected this month but then delayed to March. The first of the aircraft is now expected around the middle of the year and after being used on short-haul regional routes will be used on long-haul services, with Auckland being among the first.

The A350 stopped in Auckland during a route-proving flight in 2014 and has been in commercial service since later that year with Qatar Airways.

The aircraft dodged the design and production delays that dogged the Dreamliner for several years. Nearly a third of the 780 A350s have been ordered by airlines in the Asia-Pacific region.

- NZ Herald

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