TAP Portugal to launch A330neo, Airspace and new Recaro biz seat

HAMBURG — TAP Portugal’s new management has wasted no time in ordering new hard product to turn the oft-derided former state-owned airline around.

TAP is to be the launch partner for not only the Airbus A330neo, of which it will take fourteen A330-900neo examples, but also for the Airspace by Airbus cabin system on display at the Aircraft Interiors Expo this week. Indeed, it was hard to choose whether Airbus SVP of Marketing François Caudron or TAP CCO Trey Urbahn was more excited about in the announcement.

“We are extremely proud to be the first airline to fly the Airspace by Airbus cabin in the new A330neo,” Urbahn said. “Our passengers and flight crews eagerly look forward to experiencing this innovative new cabin design. Furthermore, the Airspace cabin represents an exciting and flexible canvas onto which we can project the TAP brand.” 

Airspace innovations that Airbus is promising for TAP include a new welcome zone, full mood lighting with 16.7 million colour variations, larger overhead bins, new lavatories, and latest inflight entertainment and connectivity options.

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Airbus and TAP celebrate the deal inside the A330neo Airspace cabin. Image: Airbus

On board its aircraft, which will be delivered from July 2017, TAP will offer a 2.5 class layout, and every passenger seat on the aircraft will be from Recaro, an order which comprises over four thousand business and economy class seats as the seatmaker pushes into the business class market.

“We are delighted with TAP’s decision to equip its entire cabin with our new CL3710 and CL6710 seats. It clearly reflects the strength of a successful collaboration between two powerful brands in the industry,” Recaro CEO Mark Hiller said in Hamburg.

Regular economy class seats down the back, an extra-legroom economy section in the middle, and a fully flat bed with direct aisle access for every passenger in business class. 

For that seat — Recaro’s CL6710 — TAP will also be the Airbus launch customer. The CL6710 is Recaro’s first foray into longhaul business class, and the seatmaker is demonstrating an enhanced, more immersive seat experience at AIX this week.

Having an established seatmaker offering additional options in business class is a significant boost to the industry’s product diversity, particularly given certification and production delays from both B/E Aerospace and Zodiac.

Recaro CL6710

Recaro CL6710

In responses to RGN at its press event at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, TAP Chief Commercial Officer Trey Urbahn also outlined its plans for both refitting its existing Airbus A330-200 aircraft, but also noted that with fuel prices as low as they are it is intending to extend the life of its venerable Airbus A340-300 jets, which are over twenty years old.

Urbahn explained that TAP will refit its A330-200 with Thompson Vantage seats in a staggered layout, but that it will not be using the wider Vantage XL seat seen on Qantas. This means that two out of the nine seats in each pair of rows will either need to climb over the aisle seat passenger or be climbed over.

RGN also understands that TAP intends to leave the existing Sogerma (now Stelia) Solstys staggered seats (which do have direct aisle access for every passenger) on incoming ex-Azul Airbus A330 aircraft.

In addition to a densification of its economy class cabins on the shorthaul Airbus A320 family — to have a knee-crunchingly tight 28” pitch down back and a 33” up front in Eurobusiness and “premium” economy seating — TAP is also promising flat bed seats on the Airbus A321neoLR aircraft it has on order. These aircraft, Urbahn suggested, will open up numerous transatlantic options for Western Europe’s most westerly hubbed airline.

TAP has contracted with Airbus to carry out its fleet renovations for both the seven A330 and forty-one A320 family aircraft. TAP will perform the modifications in its maintenance and engineering facilities, while Airbus will be in charge of the engineering and certification processes. “The fleet cabin renewal program is planned to start in the 3rd quarter of 2016 for the A320 Family fleet and in the 1st quarter 2017 for the A330ceo fleet,” Airbus said today.

From the sounds of things, we are looking at an airline hoping to replicate the success of Aer Lingus (and, to an extent, Icelandair) in developing a geographical gift into a strategic position in the west of Europe.

Overall, the balance of decisions announced today (and recently, like the hourly shuttle on ATR72 aircraft between Lisbon and second city Porto) suggest that the team running TAP has a firm plan to improve matters at the airline. The rather battered brand needs it, with its reputation for problematic #PaxEx responses to operational changes (particularly during irregularities).

RGN looks forward to discussing the plans from TAP’s new management to turn the airline’s operations around equally as laudably.

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Airbus/TAP press conference at AIX, Hamburg.

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