Swiss International Air Lines has no short or medium-term plans to acquire replacements for its Airbus A340 fleet as the carrier instead plans to focus on retrofitting all 15 of its A340-300s with a refreshed premium product by next June.

The Star Alliance carrier introduced new first and business class seats last year as it placed into service the first of 10 new A330-300s, which Swiss is using to replace its A330-200s. The first A340-300 with the new product was introduced earlier this month and is currently operating some of the carrier's new Zurich-San Francisco flights. This aircraft has a special one-off San Francisco livery, which features a loud and colourful flowery design.

Swiss CEO Harry Hohmeister says the carrier plans to retrofit all the A340-300s by June 2011. He adds with the cabin upgrade, Swiss believes it has a good product to serve the market for the next 10 years, and as a result it is not currently looking to replace any of its A340s in the short or medium-term.

"We have no time pressure," Hohmeister told ATI prior to a speech to the International Aviation Club in Washington DC.

Swiss has been evaluating the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 for several years as potential long-term replacements for its A340s. Hohmeister says this evaluation continues independent of parent Lufthansa, which also has been evaluating both new aircraft types and has also said it has no short or medium-term plans to acquire new medium-size widebodies.

Hohmeister says Swiss plans to complete retrofitting a second A340-300 in August. This aircraft will also be placed on Zurich-San Francisco, allowing Swiss to offer the refreshed product on all six of its weekly flights on the new route. Hohmeister says at the same time some Zurich-Boston flights will also be upgraded to the refreshed A340 because Swiss has a rotation in which the Boston and San Francisco flights use the same group of A340s.

Hohmeister says the Zurich-Hong Kong route is next in line to receive the upgraded A340-300. This will occur in the autumn.

While all of Swiss' A340 routes will feature the new product by next June, all of the carrier's A330 routes will be upgraded by the end of this year. Hohmeister says Swiss currently has six A330-300s in service and a seventh will be delivered within the next few days. This aircraft will replace an A330-200 currently operating on the Zurich-Nairobi route, leaving Swiss with only two remaining A330-200s.

The final three A330-300s from the 10-aircraft acquisition will all be delivered in the second half of this year. Swiss originally indicated its last A330-300 would be delivered in 2011.

Hohmeister says two of the A330-300s to be delivered in the second half of this year will be replacement aircraft and the final aircraft will be a growth aircraft. Swiss has not yet decided on a route for the growth aircraft.

Swiss' new first-class cabin features lie-flat beds, in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems that offer iPod connectivity and 23in monitors as well as generous work surfaces and storage facilities. The new business-class offering feature seats which fully recline and include air cushions that can be adjusted to passengers' desired comfort level.

Hohmeister claims its investment in upgrading its premium product has helped Swiss stay profitable in the current downturn and relevant despite being a small carrier. Swiss was among a minority of European carriers which posted a profit in 2009 and Hohmeister is confident the carrier will stay profitable this year despite "a really rocky start of 2010" due to the volcanic ash cloud, which closed Europe's airspace for several days.

He says while the Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African markets are now relatively healthy and the US is "quite OK, Europe is still doing very poorly".

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news