Aviation News

October 6, 2014

China Airlines Takes Delivery of First Boeing 777-300ER

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Written by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren
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China Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 777-300ER last Friday at Boeing’s factory in Everett, WA. The wide-body jet is the first of ten the airline has on order, all fitted with a brand-new interior including premium economy.

The airplane will begin flying regional routes from the carrier’s Taipei hub on October 10. Hong Kong, Hanoi, and Bangkok are expected to be among the first destinations. Long-haul flights will begin to Los Angeles by December 1, after the second jet is delivered. San Francisco, New York, and Frankfurt will see 777-300ER service in 2015, according to the airline.

The airplanes will primarily be utilized to replace the company’s fleet of Boeing 747-400s. Due to the 747’s increasingly inefficient economics and dated on-board product, the carrier has lost ground running the jet against its chief rival, EVA. This has been especially true in the Taiwan-North America market, where EVA has been leveraging its own fleet of 777-300s, complete with lie-flat seats and superior fuel efficiency, against China Airlines for several years.

China Airlines' Chairman, Huang-Hsiang Sun, poses for a photo on board his new jet.

China Airlines’ Chairman, Huang-Hsiang Sun, poses for a photo on board his new jet.

“It’s time.”

Company executives readily admit that they have some catching up to do. “Frankly speaking, we have been using the 747 for quite some time. We are not as competitive as others,” said the carrier’s chairman, Huang-Hsiang Sun, during an interview in Everett.

“We say it’s time,” continued Mr. Sun, “We must come out with a very competitive service offering, along with the best aircraft.” And for China Airlines that airplane is Boeing’s 777-300ER. Mr. Sun touted the airplane’s well known operating costs, cargo capacity, range, and reliability as primary reasons for the choice.

Yet in a market already crowded with the 777-300 – eight of its largest regional competitors also utilize the jet – the key for China Airlines is its revolutionized interior, designed by highly acclaimed Taiwanese architect Ray Chen.

The new cabin, which seats a total of 358 people, is built to evoke the aesthetics of the Song Dynasty (960-1276 CE). Persimmon tree grain paneling decorates cabin walls — not just in the business cabin, but throughout the entire airplane. Poetry and period art decorate the walls as well, including in the lavatories.

China Airlines' new business class, in bed mode.

China Airlines’ new business class, in bed mode.

Business class will feature 40 seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across two cabins. The full-flat product reclines to a bed 78 inches long and 28 inches wide. Features include a lamp, 18-inch touchscreen, ample storage, power outlets, and memory foam seat cushion.

Perhaps the keynote feature of the new premium cabin is the Sky Lounge, located between the forward and rear business cabins. The bar and relaxation area is meant to evoke a classic teahouse. Several Taiwanese tea options can be selected from either side of the lounge, housed in smartly crafted cubbies. Just below stands a small library with a rotating selection of books in both Chinese and English, a first that this author has seen. The bar also features more predictable amenities including a range of snack items and deserts unique to Taiwan alongside a selection of top-shelf liquor.

China Airlines' economy class seating.

China Airlines’ economy class seating.

A new premium economy will seat 62 in a 2-4-2 arrangement, located just behind business. Passengers can look forward to a large 12.1-inch screen, leg rest, storage compartment, and power outlets along with an increased soft product service.  The seat also features a fixed shell design, with 39 inches of pitch and 19 inches of width. It slides forward for a 120-degree recline. Mr. Sun says the cabin will be sold with a 20 to 25 percent premium over standard economy fares.

Economy will seat the remaining 256 passengers in a 3-4-3 layout. Each features 32 inches of pitch and 17 inches of width utilizing slim-line seats manufactured by Zodiac. A touchscreen of 11.1 inches along with USB and power ports will help keep those aboard entertained and charged up.

The carrier will also introduce Family Couch in ten rows of economy (41-51 H-K), which is being marketed to families with small children. The product raises arm and leg rests to create a full-flat bed across three seats. China Airlines says pricing will begin at $200 extra for a family of three with child under 12, up to an additional $1,000 for a solo traveler.

The new Family Couch.

The new Family Couch.

China Airlines is the first to introduce the feature outside of its creator, Air New Zealand, from which it purchased rights to the product. Mr. Sun says his airline has rights to add up to 20 Family Couches on board. The current ten can be considered a trial size “to make sure that customers are aware of this new service,” said Mr. Sun.

Panasonic’s eX3 system will provide the operating platform for the inflight entertainment system. The company will also power a WiFi service. Prices will start at $11.85 for one hour, scaling up to $21.95 for 24 hours.

“We are very excited,” said Mr. Sun. “This is a very good aircraft.” As for whether it will help win back customers, Mr. Sun was optimistic. “A lot of customers, they like to travel with us,” he said. “We’ll have to see, they’ll come back to us.”

Soft product available in China Airlines' new Premium Economy.

Soft product available in China Airlines’ new Premium Economy.

New Growth

The carrier also has fourteen Airbus A350-900 jets on firm order with an additional six options. The first is expected to be delivered in 2015. Mr. Sun says the A350 will be utilized on secondary routes such as Amsterdam, Sydney, and Vancouver, BC.

Between the new 777s and A350s, China Airlines will entirely replace its current long-haul fleet by 2018. Six Airbus A340-300s, currently used primarily on routes to Europe, will be retired by 2017. The carrier’s fleet of thirteen 747s, meanwhile, will be gradually phased out over the next few years. While the carrier did not confirm a date, their exit is likely to take place sometime in 2016.

The carrier confirmed it remains in talks with both Boeing and Airbus to replace its narrow-body fleet as demand grows in Asia.  “Demand from Japan, Korea, mainland China [continues to grow],” he said, “we are moving quite fast.”

Mr. Sun says both the 737 MAX and A320neo are being considered. A decision is expected to be finalized in the “middle of next year”, he said.

He declined to say, however, if either jet was currently favored, noting the talks were still in the early stages along with its partner, Singapore-based Tigerair. The two are currently teaming up to create a joint-venture low-cost-carrier in Taiwan, which launched in late September under the name Tigerair Taiwan.

Thus it is expected that the two carriers will combine their orders into a single large one.  Based on current aircraft, the order has the potential to go either way: China Airlines currently operates 16 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, while Tigerair operates 26 Airbus A320s.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is a Seattle-based freelance photojournalist and aviation writer. He can be reached via email, or you can follow him on Twitter.

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Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren



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