The evolution of technology over the last 25 years has reshaped metropolitan life in many conspicuous ways. It’s perhaps odd that with so many changes to life on the ground, technologies in the air have been slow to follow suit. For Cathay Pacific, however—connecting to destinations worldwide out of its regional hub in Hong Kong— 2016 represents a big jump forward with the introduction of the Airbus A350-900 XWB, which first landed in Ho Chi Minh City early last month. Cathay Pacific has ordered 48 A350-model extra wide body aircraft, which will be flown regionally before being deployed to expand their long haul network, beginning with connections to Gatwick and Dusseldorf later this year.
While for the airline, this upgrade to the entire fleet is part of a company-wide convergence on their cornerstone “life well-traveled” concept, for the passenger, the A350 flight experience feels like a step towards a journey on a starship. The aircraft and fit-out are culminations of industry-wide innovations in everything from materials, aerodynamics and avionics to seat and cockpit design. It’s a dream machine in every way—bigger, faster, stronger, quieter and greener—and it is poised to improve flight experiences for everyone traveling on this airline.
In a special presentation to the media, A350 project leader Robert Taylor went through a staggering summary of the technological improvements to this aircraft over earlier models, listing its incredibly strong and light carbon-fibre fuselage, purring Rolls Royce engines and adaptable aerodynamic profile as bringing the aircraft 25 percent more efficiency than you’d expect from a regular airplane. “It’s like a Formula 1 sports car compared to a double-decker bus,” he says. “Because it has less drag in the air, it saves fuel, and can have a slightly higher cruise speed. This airplane cruises at .85 times the speed of sound, which is higher than a conventional aircraft. Which also means you get there a bit quicker.“
One of the more interesting features for passengers is the A350’s software-controlled LED mood lighting. “We can control the colors in the cabin,” says Taylor. “At 17 million colors, we can simulate sunsets, sunrises, and all phases in between, which from a passenger’s experience reduces jetlag, because you try to get the body into a psychological time frame.”
Ultimately, though, the seating configuration is the key to anyone’s flight experience, and in this regard, Cathay Pacific has improved on comforts throughout the aircraft’s three class zones—including an increase in seat pitch, retractable arm rests, and dimmable, adjustable reading lights. These are particularly evident in the Studio F. A. Porsche-designed business class and premium economy berths, which can be transformed according to how the passenger wishes to use the space—whether that be to work, dine, relax, or sleep. Personal TVs are larger in all classes, and the remote units are touchscreen devices—passengers in business class can view content on their monitor as well as on their handheld. If you’re really aggressive with time, try watching two movies at once!
Beyond the physical technology, what has to be the Holy Grail for the modern traveler is the ability to check Facebook at 6,000 feet. Join the mile-high Wi-Fi club for a small access fee and be sure to Facetime your mom from far above the clouds.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY CATHAY PACIFIC