Air New Zealand’s first commercial Boeing 787-9 flights don't kick off until August 9 but the advanced jet has already carried thousands of passengers on ‘virtual flights’ ahead of the Dreamliner’s debut.
While the big black bird remained safely tucked away in a hangar in Auckland, plane-loads of AirNZ staff and their families set out on make-believe journeys to Sydney, Perth and Tokyo – all routes which will be visited by the big black bird this year.
“We load the aircraft completely full of staff and their families to get a good mix of passengers and we run a number of virtual flights run each day” said Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 programme director Kerry Reeves.
“It’s full service with meals, just as if you’re in the air” Reeves told Australian Business Traveller. “We also get them to give the inflight entertainment system a big stress test.”
Staffers were encouraged to bring along not only babies and young children but elderly relatives and typical carry-on baggage.
Selected passengers were also upgraded to premium economy and business class, although the drinks trolley remained locked away.
The virtual flights ranged from three hours to eight hours and often involved a break in the journey when passengers would leave the jet and then rejoin it for a second shorter flight.
Getting ready to fly...
Reeves said the simulated flights, which finished last week, form the final leg “of the proving flight process” which prepares the Boeing 787-9 for commercial service.
It’s a fascinating insight into the work carried out behind the scenes when airlines introduce a new type of aircraft into their fleet, with a myriad of plans and processes being tested and validated.
Cabin crew and engineers have already been “signed off” as being qualified for the Dreamliner, beginning with the pilots and flight attendants who worked the Boeing 787’s delivery flight from Seattle to Auckland.
The airline’s caterers have also been stocking the galley “with various meal combinations, to make sure their load plans all work.”
“By the time we get to the first week of August we should have completed all of that and satisfied the regulator that we can go into commercial service” Reeves explained.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT