Qantas's new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will allow the carrier to open new routes that would not have otherwise been possible with the larger Boeing 747s the aircraft will replace, says chief executive Alan Joyce.
He said the 787-9s will feature around 250 seats, including business class, premium economy class and economy class when they make their debut in the airline's fleet in late 2017.
"It is still being worked on but it will be in line with those used by other premium carriers around the world," Mr Joyce said on Thursday.
The 747s that will be replaced feature more than 350 seats, which allowed for a more limited number of route possibilities due to the large capacity involved. The 787s also use 20 per cent less fuel and have maintenance costs that are 15 per cent lower than the 747s.
"The 787 has better range," Mr Joyce said. "It can operate to routes the 747 can't. It allows us in certain markets where we don't have dailies to go to dailies. It allows us to open up markets we never considered before. This is unbelievably exciting for Qantas going forward."
He cited Melbourne-Dallas as an example of a route that could be opened by the new aircraft. It could also allow Qantas to offer year-round services from Sydney to Vancouver.
Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said the commitment to purchase eight 787-9s was more of a placeholder deal to ensure it doesn't lose out on favourable pricing. "At the same time, with the first 787-9s arriving in just under three years time, Qantas will be a completely different and more powerful carrier to the one we see today," he said.
Qantas will retain 15 options with guaranteed delivery dates and a further 30 purchase rights for 787-9 aircraft.
Mr Joyce said it was possible the business class seats would be a more refined version of the new suites it has been rolling out across its fleet of A330s, which include lie-flat beds and aisle access for every passenger due to the 1-2-1 configuration. The plane itself features larger windows, bigger storage binds and higher humidity levels than earlier generation aircraft.
Qantas's low-cost arm, Jetstar, already operates the smaller 787-8 aircraft to destinations including Bali, Japan and Hawaii. Jetstar has squeezed 335 seats on the smaller aircraft, but its business class is more akin to premium economy on Qantas.
Virgin Atlantic, which has a business class section with a three-class configuration more similar to the one being pursued by Qantas has 264 seats on its 787-9.
Some passengers have complained that the economy class seats on the 787-9 when it is configured at nine-abreast are too narrow at around 17 inches.
But Mr Joyce said that configuration was likely for Qantas, given the only carriers in the world to have an eight-abreast economy class were Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. "Nine-abreast is the standard," he said.