When you think “wet lease widebody”, you probably think of an elderly, inefficient Boeing 777-200 or Airbus A340-300 with seats from decades ago, questionable provision of inflight entertainment, and none of the bells and whistles that make up the modern passenger experience.
Hi Fly, the Portuguese wet-lease operator best known for its decision to take an Airbus A380 — the only one to have entered the secondhand market — has a new proposal in the form of its Airbus A330-900neo, a modern aircraft with an equally modern interior.
“The acquisition of the A330neo aircraft is a significant step forward for Hi Fly, says airline president Paulo Mirpuri, noting that “we are in the vanguard of those who have taken delivery of the new aircraft and we are happy to be able to offer these latest airliners to our customers. Also, the addition of the A330neo to the Hi Fly Fleet leaves us operating the youngest, cleanest fleet in our history.”
Mirpuri, who has an eponymous environmental foundation, suggests the neo has a 14 percent reduced fuel burn compared with the A330ceo aircraft, of which the aircraft operates several split between its Portuguese- and Maltese-registered fleets.
Onboard the new A330-900neo, which from the seat plans listed by Hi Fly seems to be registered as CS-TKY, it’s a high-density configuration.
There are eighteen business class seats up front and 353 economy class seats throughout the rest of the plane pitched at 30-32” in Airbus’ charter/leisure/LCC 3-3-3 configuration.
That’s something of an ‘ouch’ down the back, especially for those ending up in a 30” row. The ultra-narrow nine-abreast layout is no fun for anyone who isn’t a small child.
(Interestingly, Hi Fly’s other A330 listed, 9H-SZN, seems much more premium, with 32 business class seats stretching the entire length between doors 1 and 2, then 31 premium economy seats and 237 premium economy seats in the more comfortable 2-4-2 layout, pitched at 31-32”.)
On the plus side, Hi Fly will be offering RAVE, the inflight entertainment system from Safran, formerly known as Zodiac. It’s a great IFE platform that should allow the airline to be flexible and responsive for the ‘circuses’ part of the ‘bread and circuses’ distraction tactic from discomfort at the knees and elbows.
Safran is also providing the business class seating, an implementation of its relatively premium Aura Enhanced product in a 2-2-2 configuration. These are fully flat seats without direct aisle access, and a surprising choice for the wet-lease operator.
I would have expected something with greater density: the “midnight clamber” from window seat across a slumbering aisle neighbor is by no means the worst with Aura, certainly compared with something like a Collins Diamond or Thompson Vantage.
In economy, Italian seatmaker Geven has provided the nine-abreast product, and while 3-3-3 is not going to win any width-related comfort awards it at least looks pleasant. The sea effect of the dark blue with light blue on the fabric feels surprisingly premium, even if the beige of the headrest and IFE surround is a little blah. It will be interesting to see the extent to which Hi Fly takes advantage of the A330neo’s LED lighting systems to wash these beige spaces with some color.
Also interesting will be passenger reaction to this aircraft from the airline where it first finds a home. Hi Fly president Mirpuri noted at the delivery of the A330neo that it will be heading to the “far east” for a “flag carrier”.
The only major airlines in the far east operating an aircraft with economy seating this narrow are AirAsia X and Cebu Pacific, although Philippine Airlines used to have a similar configuration before its pivot back towards being a premium carrier.
A crucial question: will passengers notice the difference?