Air Canada Retrofits
The Canadian airline based in Montréal rolled out their new International Business Class product on their introduction of the Boeing 787-8 and -9 aircrafts (refer to our coverage of these variants here). In an effort to offer passengers with a consistent in-flight experience, Air Canada (AC) will retrofit older 777s with the same products.
Current 777 Configuration
Air Canada currently operates three variants of the Boeing 777s (refer to our coverage of the Boeing 777-300ERs here):
- -200LR (long range);
- -300ER (extended range – regular version); and
- -300ER (extended range – high density version)
The following table summarizes the key information of the different variants. The 777-300ER (High Density) is the world’s most populated multi-class configuration available on this variant and is currently being operated on Montreal(YUL)-Paris(CDG), Vancouver(YVR)-Hong Kong(HKG). and Vancouver(YVR)-London Heathrow (LHR) routes.
777-200LR and 777-300ER (Regular) use similar seat designs in both business and economy classes. Both were class leading when service commenced in 2007/2008. Economy seats are still very competitive today as they are configured in a 3-3-3 pattern instead of the industry standard 3-4-3.
One area that these seats has fallen behind is the inflight entertainment system screens. In business class, the default is now 15″ while economy class has bumped up to 10″). High definition resolution has also been implemented by many airlines.
While it waited for Boeing 787 deliveries, Air Canada received five high density version of 777-300ERs to manage capacity growth. These aircrafts featured a staggered business class seat design that is featured in other Star Alliance airlines like Swiss International Air Lines (LX), All Nippon Airways (NH) and Austrian Airlines (OS).
Premium economy was also introduced for the first time in Air Canada’s history. Both seats and service were enhanced with this new product implementation (refer to this link for more route deployment of the premium economy product).
Future 777-300 Configuration
After the 787 entered Air Canada’s fleet, the airline decided to streamline product offering by retrofitting all current 777s with the same seat designs.
HAECO based in Hong Kong have been chosen (refer to this press release) to complete this process. The first 777 with the new seats would enter service by Q4 2015. The rest of the 777 fleet would be retrofitted by the early 2017.
The following is the configuration for Air Canada’s 787 as a reference for the new 777s.
Analysis – 777-300ER
While business and premium class enhancements bring significant improvement to its 777s, it is also likely that Air Canada will introduce the 3-4-3 configuration into economy class. This might impact passenger experience with less width space (18.5″ down to 17″). However, pitch might improve with the use of new in-flight entertainment systems that would eliminate the need to install boxes underneath selected seats. It is not confirmed whether the airline will keep the high density version’s passenger count. Here are some potential configurations Air Canada might consider for the rollout:
The new 787 business class seat design is the updated version of what Air Canada has on its 777-200LR and 777-300ER (Regular). As such, the space between door 1 and 2 would likely only fit 24 seats. If everything is left unchanged, the seat count would go down to 446.
In the past 15 years, Air Canada has configured between 36-42 business class seats on its long haul aircrafts. With that taken into consideration, another 14 seats could be installed. The rest of the space between door 2 and 3 would be occupied by 3 rows of premium economy in a 2-4-2 configuration followed by 5 rows of economy in a 3-4-3 pattern.
If everything is unchanged after that, total seat count would be down to 390.
One of the biggest passenger feedback is the lack of washrooms on the aircraft. Instead of having 15 rows of economy between door 3 and 4, Air Canada could use the old 777 space design here and only have 134 seats installed. This will take the total seat count to 376 but would increase passenger comfort.
The likely scenario is that Air Canada would have roughly 390-446 seats on the new 777s retrofits depending on whether it would like to have more or less business class seats on board. If option 2 is used, the airline will still have one of the densest 777-300ERs around.
For 777-200LRs, using the same analysis above, total seat counts would vary between the current 270 total upwards to 350 if the second mini business class cabin is eliminated in flavour of installing premium economy and more economy seats.
As premium economy passengers receive priority check in and boarding, look for Air Canada to modify some of its check-in desks around the world to manage the overall experience. Boarding procedures would also be improved based on customer and employee feedback.
WiFi connectivity would also be implemented across the fleet starting in 2016.
Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines, Air Canada, mentioned recently that “The introduction of our new international onboard product standard across our entire Boeing 777 and 787 fleets is a key component of Air Canada’s international expansion plans”.
“With the conversion of our widebody aircraft we will introduce a much desired Premium Economy cabin and refurbish the International Business Class cabins of our entire Boeing 777 fleet to offer our international customers a state-of-the-art product consistent with on our new Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet.”
The retrofit will ensure Air Canada will be competitive with its peers for the next 3-5 years.