Air New Zealand will run the ruler over both the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350 as replacements for its current long-range Boeing 777 fleet, the airline revealed today.
Also in the mix is a second batch of 787-9s with more premium seating for the North American market.
"In the next decade we’ll have to look at the replacement of our Boeing 777-200ERs as well as the Boeing 777-300ER" Air New Zealand chief financial officer Rob McDonald told journalists in Seattle today, ahead of the delivery flight of the Kiwi carrier's first Boeing 787-9.
McDonald said "this will be a big contest" between the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350, although adding "that's many years away."
Closer on the calendar is a second order for the Boeing 787-9, with Air New Zealand holding options to buy eight more of the Dreamliners on top of the current 10.
"Some of those options come up in the next little while, so we'll turn our minds to that as to where we think the network will go" McDonald said.
Getting sharper at the pointy end
While the first ten Boeing 787-9s will replace Air New Zealand's older fuel-thirsty Boeing 767s, they also allow for new destinations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
But in order to take on US or Canadian routes the airline will consider a revamped configuration with more business class and premium economy seats.
"Technically the 787-9 can do trans-Pacific" with a fully load of passengers, McDonald said, "but probably not on the way back."
"The issue is that we put quite a few seats onto the 787-9 because this configuration is very much pitched to a tourism market like the Asian market – we think this is a very good configuration for cities like Shanghai and Tokyo – so we will turn our minds to whether another configuration is required (for North America)."
That layout would ramp up the premium seating at the pointy end of the plane.
"The issue is has it got enough business class, has it got enough premium economy" McDonald explains, "and as you take that seta count down you'll lift the range up."
McDonald said that a second wave of 787-9s could support a further push into the Asia-Pacific market or take over North American routes from the Boeing 777-200.
"Both are possible. As the 777-200 fleet gets older and we look at its replacement, this becomes an obvious candidate but to do that we’d probably need to give it a bit more range and the way to do that is shrink (the capacity)."
However, McDonald all but ruled out the Boeing 787-10, which may be larger than the -9 but lacks its sibling's extended range, as "the 787-10 won't do trans-Pacific."
Australian Business Traveller is attending the Boeing 787-9 launch in Seattle as a guest of Air New Zealand and Boeing.
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