Under its new strategy of focusing on high-yield traffic, British Airways is to reconfigure its long-haul Boeing 767 fleet by removing nearly 50 economy class seats to introduce first class and expand business seating. The carrier has also called a halt to its "Utopia" livery scheme.

BA has seven 767-300ERs in its long-haul fleet, configured with 213 seats in a 30/183 layout. Between July and October, the aircraft will be refitted into an 8/36/134 layout, totalling 178 seats. The net effect is to remove 49 economy seats, add six in business and introduce an eight-seat first class - moving to the lowest density 767 layout in the world.

Dick Eberhart, BA senior manager, network development long-haul, says the reconfiguration decision was taken a year ago - "a reflection of the fact that the aircraft will increasingly be used on thin routes in the high-yield market."

The 767s, based at London Gatwick, will initially continue to operate largely to US cities, but Eberhart says BA plans to redeploy many on routes to West Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, mostly replacing Boeing 777s.

Meanwhile, BA has abandoned its Utopia livery scheme, announcing that it will cap the repainting of tailfins in "ethnic" art at half its aircraft and relivery the remaining fins, and all new aircraft, with the Union flag design pioneered by the carrier's Aerospatiale/British Aerospace Concorde fleet.

BA introduced Utopia two years ago when it sought to adopt the image of a global, rather than a national, carrier. The airline admits that the ethnic liveries have been unpopular in the UK market, which accounts for 40% of its business, although it says the colour schemes were popular overseas.

Rival Virgin Atlantic Airways has rubbed salt into BA's livery wounds by launching a scheme making greater use of the Union flag. It will also offer business class passengers novel lie-flat bed seats from late 1999, and unique double sleeper seats a year later. BA announced the installation of its own fully flat seats last month.

Source: Flight International