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Wirraway
20th Nov 2002, 06:03
Wednesday "The WestAustralian" 20/11/02

Qantas updates cheaply
By Geoffrey Thomas

QANTAS Airways has an aggressive strategy to reshape its fleet while taking advantage of unprecedented discounts from aircraft manufacturers gripped in the worst downturn in airline history.

Chairwoman Margaret Jackson has flagged that Qantas' fleet expansion will cost up to $25 billion over 10 years - double that on order.

But rather than a grab to take advantage of deep discounts, the driving force is a solid business case, argues David Cox, general manger engineering technical operations.

"We are working with Boeing and Airbus to tailor their products to our needs," he said.

The latest Boeing 747-400, the extended range model (ER) delivered to Qantas two weeks ago, is a perfect example of that drive.

"We have been working with Boeing for five years on this new version," he said.

"Our aim was to extract greater performance out of the 747 design to meet our requirements across the Pacific."

Qantas has to restrict seat sales so that existing 747s can fly between Los Angeles and Melbourne non-stop.

"The ER version eliminates this problem and thus generates more profit," Mr Cox said.

The six 747s on order will also enable Qantas to retire less efficient 20-year-old 747-200s.

When the program is completed the Qantas 747 fleet will have passenger capacities ranging from 326 to 447 to suit different markets. Some aircraft will have two classes and others three.

In the reconfiguration, Qantas, like British Airways, will be taking out low-yield, economy-class seating to make way for the business class beds, which will give the airline an edge over rivals Air New Zealand and United Airlines on the Pacific and enable the airline to match competitors such as Singapore Airlines on the Kangaroo Route to London.

At the same time the entire Qantas 747 fleet is being upgraded with personal in-flight entertainment for all classes. Total cost of the seating and entertainment upgrade is put at $300 million.

At the other end of the capacity scale Qantas is reconfiguring most of its older Boeing 737s, which are being phased off key domestic trunk routes, to an all economy layout which adds about 12 seats where there is virtually no demand for business class.

Business class will be retained on its new 180-seat 737-800 models and the airline holds 56 more options on this model or the proposed 737-900X version which will seat more than 200 passengers.

The 737-900X would be a perfect aircraft to tackle Virgin Blue head-on or to enable Qantas to sell cheaper holiday packages.

The 737s form the backbone of the airline's short-haul fleet and are being moved on to secondary routes and to holiday destinations such as Cairns and Hamilton Island.

Qantas plans to use the 350-seat Airbus A330, of which it has ordered 13, and the 253-seat Boeing 767-300 for major trunk routes.

2002 West Australian Newspapers Limited
All Rights Reserved.
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