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Air New Zealand’s upcoming Boeing 787-10 jets – which begin to join the airline’s fleet from late 2022 – present an opportunity for AirNZ to give its business class and premium economy cabins a significant boost: both in size, and in function.
As the aircraft that will allow the airline to fly non-stop from Auckland to New York, passengers will no longer need to connect onto United Airlines flights from places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or Houston to complete their Big Apple-bound journey: spending more time instead aboard a single AirNZ plane.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul, Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon shares that over the next three years, the focus is “all about how we configure the aircraft going forward.”
“Premium (cabins are) something we're really interested in … and I do think there's a big opportunity for us to look at how we might expand our Business Premier and our premium economy,” referring to the airline’s order for up to 20 Boeing 787-10s.
As previously reported, AirNZ is actively developing and testing a new Business Premier seat at its secure ‘Hangar 22’ facilities in Auckland, along with new premium economy and economy cabins: something the airline has traditionally been rather tight-lipped about, but which Luxon can now elaborate on.
“It's been really fun! We’re now bringing (invited) customers into Hangar 22, and they do simulated flights over the course of a weekend, which is going really well. We’ll learn from that, (particularly) how they want to move through the different transitions of work, rest, sleep, and how we can make that as seamless as possible.”
Another consideration of the project which will also influence the final design is “how do we balance privacy (for passengers) versus being able to interact with our staff, which is a big part of Air New Zealand's service experience,” tipping that sliding doors in business class may be under consideration.
The airline still has plenty of time to make its final decisions and can continue testing and seeking feedback from staff and invited guests alike for at least the next 18 months before locking-down a design, but as part of that process, Air New Zealand is also being mindful to attract not only business travellers at the front of the plane, but high-end leisure guests as well.
“With our partners, we bring about 45% of all the visitors to New Zealand,” Luxon continues, “and thinking very clearly about when we go to new destinations (such as New York), that we get a wealthy premium traveller that we want to be able to bring to New Zealand, (who) spends more money each and every day they are in the country.”
Also under consideration: a second premium cabin layout for the Boeing 787-10s
While Air New Zealand is openly looking at having more than one cabin configuration aboard its Boeing 787-10s – that is, having a different arrangement of seats between business class, premium economy and economy between jets – the airline is quick to avoid having an “orphan-configured aircraft”, which only makes financial sense to fly on some routes and not others.
“For us, what's been really important is that we have a totally consistent fleet. For example, our Business Premier lie-flat bed is available on all our (long-haul) aircraft… the premium economy is now exactly the same, and there’s Skycouch in economy – our lie-flat couch product – is now on all our aircraft as well,” Luxon highlights.
Instead, the biggest change between Air New Zealand aircraft remains the number of seats in each cabin: whether that’s more of them in business class, or more rows in economy, depending on each jet, route, and demand.
One example cited is China, which was predominantly a leisure route for AirNZ around 5-7 years ago, when lie-flat beds didn’t appear on those flights to match the demand of the time.
“It was a Boeing 767 and it was a great economy product, but not a great premium product,” Luxon reflects, “but now we need even more premium product for that market, and by having a consistent product within cabins, we can then just put the right aircraft on the right route at the right time: that's the whole model.”
New York within reach, but London remains one-stop from Auckland
With the Kiwi carrier planning non-stop flights between Auckland and New York, it begs the question whether Air New Zealand also has an ambition to fly from its home hub in Auckland non-stop to London, mirroring the Sydney-London Project Sunrise plans of its cross-Tasman codeshare partner Qantas.
Currently, AirNZ serves London from Auckland via Los Angeles, although a non-stop Auckland-London flight would clock in at almost 1,000 miles longer than Sydney-London, or almost 3,000 miles longer than the planned Auckland-New York route for the Boeing 787-10.
When asked whether the airline was indeed planning to ditch the Los Angeles stopover for London flyers, Luxon says simply that “no, we’re not.”
On long-distance flights beyond the UK capital, “it's with our partnerships and alliance relationships that we feel we can best deliver Europe… but our real focus is staying within the greater Pacific Rim region… particularly, flying from New Zealand into the Americas, into Asia, into Australasia.”
“We're very interested in continuing to expand a lot of routes throughout those three regions of the world,” Luxon closes.
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.