SAS’s major project of upgrading its long-haul aircraft has been going on for a little more than half a year, and now all Airbus A330 aircraft are flying with new cabins on board. In autumn, three Airbus A340s will also be upgraded before one of SAS’s most important and urgent projects can be finalised. We met with Knut Ness, SAS’s senior project manager, to ask how the project has gone thus far.

BusinessClass has followed the project since its inception in June 2014, when we were the first to test SAS’s impressive new business class. And in January 2015 we were the first on board ‘Erik the Viking’ – the first aircraft to be upgraded by SR Technics in Zurich.

BusinessClass.co.uk flew down to SR Technics in Zurich a few weeks ago to meet with the Knut and Sigrid Viking, SAS’s last Airbus A330 long-haul aircraft to be upgraded with the new cabins.

When we step into the giant hangar, located at Zurich-Kloten airport, there is a hive of activity. During our visit in early June, Sigrid Viking had been in the hangar for three weeks, with only one week before the aircraft was to be flown to Copenhagen and immediately put into service. Knut Ness is a senior project manager at SAS and the one responsible for all the details falling into place. He describes the project as very complex with many suppliers involved – and everything must be completely ready before the plane can be certified and put into operation.

“We would have usually liked another year in which to implement the upgrades, but SAS management is very keen that this be done as soon as possible,” says Knut.

Sigrid Viking has lost his nose - the hangar is a few metres too short

Sigrid Viking has lost his nose – the hangar is a few metres too short

Photo: Martin Björnström

Much activity in the Business Class cabin - a few seats remain before completion

Much activity in the Business Class cabin – a few seats remain before completion

Photo: Martin Björnström

Costly project

It is nine years ago since SAS last upgraded its cabins on long-haul aircraft, and the reason is that it is costly – very costly.

All old seats have been removed and many panels are new. Toilets and kitchens have been renovated and we think the results look surprisingly good. When the new cabins were fitted, new cables had to be wired to the seats and the in-flight entertainment systems. The large compartment for the entertainment system is completely new – and all movies are now digital, rather than the tape recordings that were previously used. Wireless base stations have also been installed in the ceiling and there is now a large satellite receiver on top of the aircraft.

As we walk around in the cabin with Knut, he points to a number of details that have been adjusted or changed completely. Technicians are working on a number of areas in the aircraft, performing various types of installations. In fact, most of the team at SR Technics are working double shifts, with a third team working at night so that everything will be ready in time – some jobs must be done separately at night.

We asked if everything has gone according to plan. Knut considered the question and described a couple of things that had to be changed along the way. “We had to change a curtain between the cubicles as it was obscuring an Exit sign. And we also had a little problem with a piece of plastic on the back of the SAS Go seats that could crack, but it is all now solved.”

Warm reception from SAS customers

The response from SAS passengers has been warm – especially for a major upgrade undertaken in a such a short time. Over 90% of BusinessClass readers who flew in new cabins gave a thumbs up and a score of 5 out of 5.

To the question, “Is it more likely that you will fly with SAS now the cabins have been upgraded?” 70% of readers, which is a large percentage, answered “very likely”. It is obvious that many frequent travellers appreciate an improved Business Class and SAS Plus product.

Knut Ness shows off SAS Go seats

Knut Ness shows off SAS Go seats

Photo: Martin Björnström

Sigrid Viking left Zurich in time and was put straight into operation – its first flight was to Washington the next day.

The project will end in autumn 2015

In September, two brand new Airbus A330 Enhanced will be coming from the Airbus factory in Toulouse – those aircraft will likely be deployed on the new route to Hong Kong. We asked if the aircraft will differ from the upgraded Airbus A330. Ness answered, “Regular travellers will probably not notice any difference, but there is obviously little detail differences, for example the toilets.”

SAS Go cabin is considerably large without seats

SAS Go cabin is considerably large without seats

Photo: Martin Björnström

SAS Plus seats awaiting installation in Sigrid Viking

SAS Plus seats awaiting installation in Sigrid Viking

Photo: Martin Björnström

Knut showing us the roof mounted satellite receiver that constantly turns and tilts two antennas towards the correct satellite for best reception

Knut showing us the roof mounted satellite receiver that constantly turns and tilts two antennas towards the correct satellite for best reception

Photo: Martin Björnström

This Autumn, the remaining three A340 aircraft will go to Zurich to undergo the same upgrade as Sigrid Viking, then the project is finished. This leaves four A340s which are leased for a limited time. We asked if the final aircraft will also be upgraded, and the answer we got was that it is quite possible but that no such decision has been taken as of yet – it is the SAS management who will determine if the aircraft will continue to fly with us and thus expand the SAS long-haul fleet, or if they shall be retired.