Air New Zealand is yet to decide if its Airbus A321neo aircraft will sport business class on flights across the Tasman or whether they’ll follow the lead of the incumbent A320s in an all-economy layout.
With the airline’s first A321neo due in late 2017, we asked Air NZ Chief Sales and Commercial Officer Cam Wallace to share a little about what’s to come on the next-gen bird.
“We have many, many different options…” Wallace tells Australian Business Traveller, “… whether it’s a premium cabin or a ‘Space+’ cabin, whether we have a Works Deluxe-type product, whether we have a small business cabin or a large business cabin… so there are probably 4-5 different options and we haven’t yet concluded our position.
“We’re still working through what the layout of the passenger amenities will be as there’s a lot of intensive customer research involved such as what are our customers prepared to pay for and what does a larger cabin do to your economy-to-business mix, so there’s a lot of investment in time and energy deciding how those aircraft will be laid out.”
Virgin Australia business class, partnership
Air New Zealand’s alliance partner Virgin Australia now offers business class on every trans-Tasman flight, with VA’s Chief Commercial Officer Judith Crompton describing the move as “absolutely critical” and “in line with our vision and our strategy to be a full premium brand airline.”
We asked Wallace if Air NZ was looking to make a similar decision, who responded that “we actually have quite a bit of trans-Tasman business class, because if you look at Auckland-Sydney we have a Boeing 767 on a daily basis, we have quite a bit of wide-body capacity on a daily basis for Auckland-Melbourne and certainly Auckland-Brisbane as well.
“(Virgin Australia) also having a small business cabin also adds to the proposition, because they’re winning more corporate accounts which is then channelling more corporate customers across the Tasman, so that’s worked really, really well for us,” Wallace shares.
Overall, we’re told that Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand jointly enjoy a 53-54% market share across the Tasman, with each airline codesharing on the other’s flights to give travellers maximum flexibility as to when they travel.
LAN 787s, Emirates A380s: hard to compete?
Rivals and Qantas partners Emirates and LAN woo travellers across the Tasman with fully-flat beds as opposed to domestic-grade reclining seats, with Emirates also raising the bar to new heights, quite literally, with an inflight cocktail bar and lounge on its flagship A380s that’s perfect for daytime flights.
But does that make it more difficult for Air New Zealand to compete on its own turf?
That’s a firm “no” from Wallace, “because even where we have the Boeing 777 operating (offering fully-flat beds in business class), there’s a very, very, very small percentage of customers that actually put the bed down, because it’s such as short flight.
“The cruise might be two hours, so we don’t see that as a big issue – what we see as the bigger opportunity for us in a competitive sense is actually our frequency, our network, our lounges and our loyalty, and that proposition for us in the last four years has been tremendously successful on the Tasman.”
A case in point: AirNZ runs a number of all-economy trans-Tasman flights using its A320s, which are positioned on routes and times “where there are more leisure and free and independent travellers” while the twin-aisle aircraft with business class are used “where we think the business market is positioned.”
“But suffice to say we are very comfortable with our position on the Tasman… very comfortable,” Wallace concludes.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT