In Mar-2018, Taiwan’s China Airlines will become the first foreign airline in the Australia market with an all A350 operation.
China Airlines (CAL) began operating the A350 to Australia on 1-Dec-2017, when it transitioned the Taipei-Sydney route from A330-300s to A350-900s. The airline recently set a 25-Mar-2018 date for introducing the A350-900 on its other two Australia routes, Taipei-Melbourne and Taipei-Brisbane-Auckland.
The decision to operate all Australia flights with A350s is not surprising given that CAL previously told The Blue Swan Daily that it intended to phase out the A330s on its Australia and New Zealand flights in 2018.
Introducing the A350 results in a significant product improvement for the Australia market, particularly in the premium cabin. CAL configures its A350-900s with 32 full lie flat seats with all-aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. Its ageing A330-300s have 30 to 36 recliner style business class seats (depending on the aircraft) in a less desirable 2-2-2 configuration. The A350 business class cabin also features a self-service bar area.
Deploying the A350 to Australia also enables CAL to introduce a premium economy product. The A350 fleet has 31 premium economy seats in a relatively spacious 2-3-2 configuration. Most competitors have a 2-4-2 layout in premium economy on the A350, including Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.
The economy class product also improves as the A350 features larger seatback IFE monitors. CAL has a smaller economy cabin on the A350, which has 243 regular economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration compared to 277 seats on the A330-300 in a 2-4-2 configuration. However, CAL’s total capacity in the Australia market has increased significantly due to the introduction of additional frequencies on the Taipei-Sydney route.
Taipei-Sydney was upgraded from five weekly A330-300 flights to 14 weekly A350-900 flights on 1-Dec-2017. CAL will operate a slightly reduced schedule of 11 weekly A350-900 frequencies during the next northern winter season, starting 25-Mar-2018. However, offering 11 to 14 weekly (depending on the time of year) dedicated flights to Sydney represents a huge increase compared to the previous schedule of four to seven weekly (depending on the time of the year) flights which were shared with Auckland. CAL stopped serving the Sydney-Auckland sector in Jul-2017.
CAL has maintained a presence in the Auckland market by continuing to serve Auckland as a tag with Brisbane. CAL upgraded Taipei-Brisbane-Auckland route from four weekly flights to daily at the beginning of Dec-2017 and will improve the product on this route on 25-Mar-2018 as the A350 replaces the A330-300.
CAL at least for now will continue to serve Melbourne with only three weekly frequencies. However, the product in the Melbourne market will improve on 25-Mar-2018 as the A350 replaces the A330-300 on the Taipei-Melbourne route. CAL currently operates three weekly A330-300 flights year-round to Melbourne, with all three frequencies continuing to Christchurch in New Zealand during the summer season only.
Upgrading Melbourne seems inevitable as CAL continues to take delivery of more A350s. Offering only three frequencies is hardly ideal, particularly for business or corporate passengers and traffic connecting beyond Taipei.
Under the winter schedule, CAL also has a ground time of 9hr25min in Melbourne. This is hardly acceptable given CAL will be using brand new A350-900s this winter. CAL will eventually need to adjust its Taipei-Melbourne schedule – potentially combined with more frequencies.
More frequencies and a better schedule would enable CAL to attract more local Melbourne-Taipei traffic and compete better in the Melbourne-London market. CAL launched flights to London in late 2016 and the new Sydney schedule allows CAL to offer quick connections in both directions to Sydney-London passengers.
CAL is one of five airlines operating the A350 to Australia along with Cathay Pacific Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airway. However, CAL will be the only airline that will exclusively operate the A350 on all its Australia flights. Several foreign airlines operate exclusively the 787 in the Australia market including All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Japan Airlines, LATAM Airlines, United Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.