Fiji Airways improves medium haul product as 737 MAX 8s are delivered

Fiji Airways has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 8, ushering in significant product improvements for its medium haul network. It took the first of at least five 737 MAX 8s on 30-Nov-2018. While the 737 MAX has been in service for 18 months, Fiji Airways is the first operator of the type from the South Pacific region.


Summary:

  • Fiji Airways has taken its first Boeing 737 MAX 8 and plans to operate five of the type by the end of 2019;
  • The airline is configuring its 737 MAX 8s with eight business and 162 business class seats, resulting in a 4% increase in economy capacity compared to its 737-800s;
  • Fiji Airways plans to eventually operate eight 737 MAX aircraft as it expands its narrowbody fleet by 60%.

In late 2016 Fiji Airways ordered five 737 MAX 8s and completed sale leaseback deals with GECAS. Fiji Airways executives initially told CAPA in 2017 that all five aircraft were slated to be delivered in 4Q2018 and 1Q2019 in 185-seat two class configuration (178 economy and eight business). At the time, Fiji Airways was also negotiating with GECAS for a sixth 737 MAX 8 to be delivered in 2019 and was planning to phase out all five of its existing 737NGs by the end of 2019.

Fiji Airways subsequently decided to delay the acquisition of a sixth aircraft and CEO Andre Viljoen told CAPA in Jun-2018 the airline was planning to keep one of its 737-800s until 2023. He added Fiji’s 10-year fleet plan envisions the narrowbody fleet expanding to eight aircraft and three more 737 MAXs will eventually be required.

The airline also dropped the initial plan for 185 seats and instead opt for a roomier 170-seat configuration, featuring eight business class and 162 economy seats. While the 185-seat configuration would have resulted in a larger capacity increase, Fiji Airways is still expanding economy capacity by 4% on routes that transition from 737-800s to 737 MAX 8s.

Its four 737-800s are configured with eight business class and 156 economy seats. It also has one 737-700 with eight business and 114 economy seats. Routes now operated with 737-700s will therefore experience a 42% increase in economy class capacity.

Business class capacity will not be increasing but a significant product improvement is being introduced. The new business class seats have 51in pitch, 13in seatback IFE screens and charging points. The 737-800 seats have 48in pitch and no IFE or wifi. Economy passengers on Fiji’s 737 MAX also will enjoy seatback IFE and wifi.

Fiji’s narrowbody capacity is growing by 30% as it plans to have a narrowbody fleet of six aircraft (five 737 MAX 8s and one 737-800s) with a total of 1,014 seats by mid 2019 compared to a fleet of five aircraft (four 737-800s and one 737-700) with a total of 778 seats prior to the first MAX delivery.

CHART –Fiji Airways has five 737 MAX 8s on order, including the aircraft that was just delivered and is not yet in service, but intends to acquire a total of eight of the type before phasing out the last of its 737 NGsSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database

Its first MAX, registered DQ-FAB and named after the island of Kavadu, will be placed into service in mid-December. Fiji Airways announced in late June that Adelaide will be the first MAX destination in the Australia/New Zealand region.

In addition to Adelaide, Fiji Airways has included the 737 MAX 8 in its Jan-2019 schedule for some flights to its other three Australia destinations (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney) and its New Zealand destinations (Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington). Fiji Airways also has included the 737 MAX 8 in its Jan-2019 schedule for Apia in Samoa, Honolulu in Hawaii, Tarawa in Kiribati and Tongatapu in Tonga.

Nadi-Honolulu is Fiji Airways’ longest narrowbody route at nearly seven hours and the airline has several 737 routes of over five hours. The MAX 8 is ideal for such routes given its improved fuel efficiency, range and inflight product.