French carrier Air Caraïbes has become the eleventh worldwide customer to introduce the Airbus A350 XWB into its fleet and the first to adopt a dense internal configuration. The aircraft, leased from AerCap, was officially handed over to the Guadeloupe-based operator during a ceremony in Toulouse, France on February 28, 2017 and has already been ferried to Paris Orly ahead of entry into service later this week.
While all operators to date have adopted the standard nine-abreast arrangement initially detailed by the carrier in its catalogue, Air Caraïbes has selected a dense ten-abreast configuration with a seat width of just below 17 inches, enabling it squeeze more returns out of the aircraft. This additional seat in each Economy row will mean the carrier’s A350-900 will seat just short of 400 passengers - 389 passengers in a three-class configuration (18 in Business, 45 in Premium Economy and 326 in Economy).
Air Caraïbes plans to operate its A350-900 alongside the A330s it already has in service on its routes linking France and the Caribbean. It will initially enter service on March 2, 2017 operating ‘TX540’ between Paris Orly and Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe before operating a series of special flights to and from Fort-de-France, Martinique, returning as ‘TX515’ from Fort-de-France on March 3, 2017 and arriving back into the French capital on the morning of March 4, 2017. It will then subsequently enter formal scheduled service operating four flights per week between Paris Orly and Pointe-a-Pitre and three weekly flights between Paris Orly and Fort-de-France.
This arrival marks a new stage in the development of Air Caraïbes, made possible by the financial capacity of the company and the support of its shareholder, the Group Dubreuil,” said Marc Rochet, chairman of the management board of Air Caraïbes This aircraft, which is at the heart of our transatlantic network, will deliver an improved operational performance while offering a new dimension of comfort for passengers.”
The A350 joins the carrier’s existing fleet that includes four A330-300s and one A330-200 (a second A330 is also been leased from Air Transat in the short-term) and which are presently used on its flights to the Caribbean, configured with 315- and 355-seats respectively.
The airline is also due to receive a second A350-900 before the end of March 2017, while three of the larger A350-1000 variant will be delivered before 2022. The latter is expected to be configured with 439 seats. A further two A350-900s will fly with Air Caraïbes’ sister venture French Blue across an expanding network that will cover destinations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
Air Caraïbes is unlikely to be the only carrier to introduce the ten-abreast arrangement on the A350 and Qatar Airways are also considering adopting the same configuration as part of a densification of its fleet. We have already seen a number of airlines move from nine- to ten-abreast on the Boeing 777-300ER to generate financial benefits. With fixed costs remaining effectively the same except perhaps for an additional crew member, the additional seats deliver almost pure profitable revenue returns for operators.
There are strong passenger flows - predominantly leisure - between Paris and Pointe-à-Pitre and Fort-de-France. Alongside Air Caraïbes, Air France and Corsair serve both Caribbean destinations from Paris Orly, while XL Airways France provides flights from Paris Charles De Gaulle with around 1.9 million annual passengers flying on these routes, approximately 2,675 PPDEW (passengers per day each way).