Cathay Pacific could decide on its very large aircraft requirements by mid-2013, although the heavy twin-engined widebody aircraft will remain the backbone of its long-haul fleet.
Hong Kong's flag carrier has been waiting to complete its heavy twin campaigns, and for the Boeing 748-8 Intercontinental to begin revenue services, before looking into its requirement for four-engined widebodies, says its chief executive John Slosar.
The airline, which operates a large fleet of Boeing 747-400s, is a potentially important customer for the latest variant of the 747 and the Airbus A380.
It has been retiring its 747-400s, which it believes are not efficient in the current high-fuel price environment, at an accelerated pace and replacing them with the Boeing 777-300ERs and eventually the Airbus A350-1000s.
Slosar says that Cathay has been busy over the last few months with its campaigns for a twin-engined widebody, culminating in an agreement to convert orders for 16 Airbus A350-900 aircraft order into the larger -1000 variant. It also exercised an option to purchase 10 new -1000s.
With the 747-8I entering into service with Lufthansa on 1 July, the airline will have also received enough data about the aircraft to compare it with the A380, which has been in service for five years.
It is now a good time to "get an update on the very large aircraft as both manufacturers are trying to improve efficiency" in that space, he adds.
"There could be a need for a bigger aircraft for places with slot constraints, where you have run out of scheduled windows and need a bigger aircraft with the capacity," says Slosar, who adds that the airline could move very quickly on a decision.
"When we dig into these things, we don't dawdle on them. We get on with it. By the middle of next year, we would have done whatever sums we wanted to do. If anything comes out of it, we would be in a position of acting on it."
Big twin-engined widebodies like the 777-300ERs and the A350s will remain the backbone of Cathay's long-haul fleet, says Slosar. It is in that context that the airline is open to considering the replacement for the 777-300ER.
The airline has participated in Boeing's developmental studies into the aircraft, which has been dubbed the 777-X, and the airframer is "working hard to bring out something that offers real value to its customers", says Slosar.
That is especially important for Cathay, where the business strategy is to use aircraft like the 777-300ERs "efficiently" for multiple departures on a daily basis to a wide range of destination such as Sydney, New York, London and Los Angeles.
"The 777-X needs to have the sweet spot. It's got to have the big twin efficiency, with each step more engine efficiency, better aerodynamics, and better maintenance so that you have lower operating costs continually over time. That is probably the most important thing," says Slosar.
"It must also have the range and payload, which means around 300 seats in the Cathay configuration. It has got to be able to carry cargo as that is a big part of our business. Put that all together, and we think you end up with a winner."