Behind the scenes: Refitting our Airbus A330 Upper Class cabin

Our new Airbus A330 Upper Class cabin

Our new Airbus A330 Upper Class cabin

We’ve just finished fitting a brand new Upper Class cabin into our first Airbus A330 aircraft, and we couldn’t be happier with the result.  As the first of our A330 fleet to get the refit, G-VSXY Beauty Queen now has an interior virtually identical to the Boeing 787-9 cabin you’ve told us you love. Whether you’re a new customer or a frequent flyer, here are ten things to look out for when you next fly Upper Class:

  1. A redesigned cabin with a subtle and sophisticated new backdrop
  2. New mood lighting to aid sleep, relaxation and adjustment to new time zones
  3. Additional storage space thanks to 16 new centre overhead lockers, as well as extra space for hanging coats
  4. Direct aisle access to 31 individual seats
  5. The same seat design as our 787 aircraft which flip over with the touch of a button to create a fully flat bed
  6. Seats furnished in espresso leather which were specifically designed for Virgin Atlantic to give the feeling of sitting in your favourite armchair
  7. The latest touch screen technology, making it even easier to scroll through and select entertainment
  8. An 11.1” smart touchscreen monitor, a Panasonic Touch Screen Handset, and USB hubs at every seat
  9. A relocated bar adjacent to the Wander Wall in Premium Economy, providing more privacy between the communal area and the nearest seats in Upper Class or Premium Economy
  10. A 24” touchscreen monitor over the bar showing looped animations that complement the cabin environment

But it’s not just Upper Class customers who’ll notice a difference. If you’re flying Premium Economy, you’ll be able to visit our newly installed Wander Wall for the first time. This feature, which has proved a big hit on our 787s, allows you to stretch your legs, mingle and grab a drink or snack whenever you like. And everyone onboard can play with the whizzy new map which will be showing on our Vera inflight entertainment system in all cabins.

Upper Class bar on the Airbus A330

Upper Class bar on the Airbus A330

Not quite as simple as nipping down to Ikea

As you’d imagine, fitting a new cabin on a modern airliner is a huge undertaking. Under the project leadership of Andy Haines, manager of Cabin and Technical Projects, the work began in 2015. The first job was to work with our design team and Airbus to make sure the suites would fit onto the new aircraft type. Even more important was making sure the work would comply with the myriad regulations needed to gain certification from the authorities. Once the design was approved, the project plan created, the contractors recruited and all the parts bought, it was over to Andy Masters and his team to make it happen.

Andy Masters

Andy Masters

Andy Masters, our Outsourced Base Maintenance Manager, Airbus, looks after many of the heavy maintenance programmes of our aircraft. These are carried out by specialist companies around the world, in this case the aircraft engineering company HAECO in Xiamen, China. Most of the refits are planned to coincide with what’s known in the industry as an aircraft 4C check, one of the biggest maintenance checks in the aircraft cycle. This involves taking everything off the aircraft for inspection, so it’s the perfect time to install a new cabin.

The 4C check

The 4C check

Andy’s work started last November with preparations to make sure HAECO were ready – all the data, regulatory compliance, support teams and materials had to be in place before Beauty Queen arrived in Xiamen. Our various Engineering Services teams supported Andy over the Christmas period, as well as the overseas team on the ground in Xiamen and other specialists from London Gatwick.

This wider Virgin Atlantic team was further supported by 20 specialists from Airbus, The Airbus Corporate Jet Centre, AIM aircraft interiors, Zodiac, BE Aerospace and Panasonic, who all supported HAECO with the reconfiguration of G-VSXY. The first one is always the trickiest with a project like this, and by having everyone working on site and in the same time zone, they were able to transfer skills and share knowledge on the installation.

The refit gets underway

The refit gets underway

Andy describes the refit operation on the ground in China as choreography, with parts supplied and fitted by up to 80 people of multiple nationalities and companies working to a complicated plan. This involved installing the bars, the features (or in aviation parlance the ‘monuments’), the lighting and the entertainment screens – and then getting everything tested and ready to fly – all while the very detailed 4C check was going on.

Once everything had been done, it was time for the big test: getting the work certified by EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency. They thoroughly inspect all the work, including the processes and paperwork, and will only issue a certificate after they’re sure everything is safe and sound.

Job done! From left to right, Jane Zheng (HAECO), Garry Bright, Glen Harrison, Michael Chen Chao (HAECO), Al Cain, Martin Gage, Nick Bates, Chris Luke and Lynne WU (HAECO).

Job done! From left to right, Jane Zheng (HAECO), Garry Bright, Glen Harrison, Michael Chen Chao (HAECO), Al Cain, Martin Gage, Nick Bates, Chris Luke and Lynne WU (HAECO).

Since Andy and his team waved G-VSXY away on its flight back to Heathrow there’s been little time to rest. The remaining A330s are scheduled to roll out at roughly one a month until early 2018 (with a short break in the summer) and our engineering teams are also hard at work installingseat power on our A340s and Wi-Fi across the entire fleet. All this, along with the arrival of the A350s in 2019, will keep our fleet fresh, modern and one of the youngest in the sky.

“We’re investing over £300 million to improve our customer’s experience of flying with us including a new website, developing a fully Wi-Fi connected fleet, and the refit of our A330 Upper Class cabins,” said Mark Anderson, our Executive Vice President, Customer.

“Over the next year, we’re refitting all ten of our A330s to offer a more consistent experience across our fleet. The refit gave us an opportunity to gain customer feedback and take a fresh look at the design and layout to ensure it has the wow factor.”

“This was a fantastic piece of collaboration across nationalities, disciplines and companies,” said Andy Masters, on proudly surveying the result of everyone’s hard work. “It took teamwork to a whole new level. It means our customers will have the same wonderful experience on the majority of our routes and enjoy comfort and our brand at its best. I’d like to thank our engineers who spend a lot of time away from their families to represent us on the project”.

The last word has to go to the most important people, our customers. Here are a few comments we’ve received after the first few flights of the new cabin:

“Flight VS 030 on 27 March was the best Virgin flight we can remember. We thought the seating configuration was much better than before on Airbus flights”.

“It’s only after flying Virgin that I realise what business class o f 2017 should be”.

“The inflight entertainment system was a big improvement over previous versions, much more responsive”.

About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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