Cathay Pacific is studying schemes to develop a Longer Range Boeing 747-400 retrofit package which would enable it to grow capacity on key transpacific routes and at the same time avoid the expense of all-new aircraft.

The plan involves converting six of the best-performing 747s in the current fleet by adding belly fuel tanks and blended winglets, as well as other minor modifications. The target of the upgrade is to increase range by up to 1,100km (600nm) without exceeding the 397,250kg (875,000lb) maximum take-off weight (MTOW) limits of the -400, unlike Boeing's recently launched 747-400 Longer Range which has an MTOW of 413,000kg.

The airline confirms that discussions have been held with Seattle-based Aviation Partners on the possibility of fitting blended winglets to the 747. They have also held talks on fuel tanks with Flight Structures and Integration, the Arlington, Washington-based engineering services arm of B/E Aerospace. However, it adds that the studies are low key, and there are no firm launch plans. As the conversion would not involve the comprehensive structural modifications to be developed by Boeing for the six Qantas Longer Range 747s on order, nor the relocation of the potable water tanks forward of the main spar, the proposed Cathay aircraft would not have the same high payload capacity.

Although the initiative is believed to be aimed at increasing potential capacity on routes such as Hong Kong-New York, Cathay insists that it is sticking with plans to retain the Airbus A340-300 on that sector. It says the route is still too thin to support a fully loaded 747-400 at this point. The A340 was introduced to give Cathay a presence on the route following the start of non-stop 777 services by Continental Airlines and United Airlines. The Hong Kong-based carrier plans to switch to the A340-600 on the route in 2002.

Source: Flight International