Major boost for Kilkeel as BA rolls out its new A350 fleet
A company employing 900 people in Kilkeel has completed a multi-million pound deal building 1,000 new business class seats for British Airways.
The 'Super Diamond' club suite produced by Collins Aerospace, formerly known at B/E Aerospace, took centre stage at Heathrow Airport yesterday, where the airline unveiled the first of 18 new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft for its fleet.
British Airways was forced to delay the planned launch on Friday after radar faults and the impact of the European-wide heatwave played havoc with flight schedules in London.
The new generation 74-metre long Airbus jet will carry up to 331 passengers across three classes.
The new business class features 56 of the luxury seats designed by Collins Aerospace in the US, but created by its workers in Co Down where it employs over 900 people.
The new seats, which enable passengers to close a door and recline into a horizontal sleeping position, will be installed in all new A350-1000s ordered by British Airways. Four will be deployed before the end of the year, on routes to Dubai, Bangalore, Toronto and Tel Aviv.
British Airways will also upgrade its Boeing 777 fleet with the new Collins-made seats.
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The airline has a long-standing relationship with B/E Aerospace, which was acquired by Rockwell Collins in 2016. In 2017, Rockwell Collins was bought by the maker of Pratt & Whitney jet engines, UTC, in a $30bn (£23bn) deal. At that time, almost 800 people were employed at the Kilkeel operation.
The Co Down factory has previously produced a series of seating products for British Airways. It also lists Qantas, American Airlines, Emirates and Air France among its clients.
The new British Airways contract is believed to be a multi-million pound deal with the US-owned company.
The carrier said that alongside increased privacy and flat-bed seats, the club suite boasts 40% more storage, wi-fi, 18.5-inch in-flight entertainment screens, a vanity unit and mirror and PC/USB power.
Carolina Martinoli, British Airways’ director of brand and customer experience, said: “We are delighted to welcome the first of our A350s to the fleet.
“This aircraft marks a significant and exciting milestone in our £6.5bn investment programme and is even more special as it comes with our new club suite.
“The A350 is a fantastic aircraft and an excellent showpiece for British engineering. Our customers are going to love the space, light and comfort on board.”
British Airways will initially introduce the A350 on some short-haul flights between London and Madrid to allow the airline’s cabin staff to familiarise themselves with the aircraft layout.
The aircraft will begin long-haul flying to Dubai during September, followed by services to Toronto, Tel Aviv and Bangalore this year. During this period another three A350 aircraft will join the British Airways fleet and two Boeing 777 aircraft will also be retrofitted with the new Kilkeel-made cabin.
The next phase will see the carrier rolling out the club suite on further long-haul aircraft across the network.