Farnborough Air Show

UK’s Thomson Air dreams of the day it gets Boeing 787s

 - July 19, 2010, 8:29 AM
Thomson is the launch UK customer for the Boeing 787. It has placed an order for 13 Dreamliners, with options for another equal number. (Photo by David McIntosh)

The international industry debut of the Boeing 787 at Farnborough International this week has provided a major opportunity for local carrier Thomson Airways to fly its flag as the UK launch customer for the new aircraft, which is on display here until this afternoon. Thomson is a wholly owned subsidiary of international leisure group TUI Travel, which has ordered 13 of the 787s and has purchase rights on a further 13.

Eight of TUI’s aircraft have been assigned to Thomson, with the parent company taking the balance into its almost 150-strong overall fleet. The first 787 for Thomson is scheduled to be delivered in January 2012, with the balance following over three years to the first quarter of 2015, Thomson Airways managing director Chris Browne told AIN.

The airline has chosen the 787 to replace its current Boeing 767s, believing the new design offers “fantastic, 20-percent better” operating economics and will provide even greater customer comfort than it was seeking. Thomson is also impressed with the “8,500-nautical-mile range,” which Browne said would permit the operator to “push the [holiday] envelope” and introduce previously unlikely nonstop destinations.

For example, she cites the possibility of offering Pacific holiday flights from Bristol in southwest England to Hawaii. The airline said more than 40 percent of surveyed interviewees cited the Hawaiian Islands as the most preferred of newly offered potential destinations.

Another positive factor seen as providing a commercial advantage to the holiday airline is the enhanced travel experience arising from the 787’s lower, 6,000-foot (rather than usual 8,000-foot) cabin altitude. Perceiving slightly higher cabin oxygen levels as likely to reduce symptoms of jet lag–a particular consideration in eastbound travel–Thomson may use the 787 to introduce seven-day vacations in which body-clock adjustment would become a less significant factor. Previously, this consideration has made some longer-range destinations less attractive. 

Browne explained that the airline has not yet decided on the cabin configuration for its 787s. A major element in the decision will be the recent UK government proposal, announced in last month’s emergency budget, to explore changes to current airline-passenger duty arrangements from a tax payable by individual travelers to a per-aircraft charge (that also will apply to cargo aircraft for the first time). Browne is keen to maintain a differential in its UK holiday market offerings over competing services promoted by British Airways.

Following its selection and planned introduction of the 787, Thomson Holidays will consider its future single-aisle requirements. The operator needs a new narrowbody airliner to succeed current Boeing 757 equipment, a market for which Airbus claims its current A321 is a candidate, especially if equipped with recently offered winglets.