Almost a year since Air New Zealand's inaugural non-stop flight from Auckland to New York was set to take wing in October 2020 – an undertaking quickly scuppered by the worldwide spread of Covid-19 – the Kiwi carrier has resumed planning for the near-18 hour journey.
Proudly bearing the flagship flight numbers of NZ1/NZ2, the marathon 14,200km trek was to become not only AirNZ's longest route but among the longest commercial flights in the world, just marginally shorter than Qantas' Perth-London service.
And like that long-hopping 'kangaroo route', the 'Kiwi route' between Auckland and New York was to be flown by a Boeing 787-9 with a 'premium-heavy' configuration which skewed the balance towards business and premium economy seating to deliver higher revenue with a lower overall headcount.
But Air New Zealand hasn't given up on its direct New York flights – and, like Qantas, considers the non-stop flight will have plenty of post-pandemic appeal by avoiding stopovers and keeping passengers cocooned in the Dreamliner's safe, clean and controlled environment.
"We absolutely will be getting back to direct flights to New York," AirNZ CEO Greg Foran insists.
"We see North America as being critical to our international business and are very keen to get that operating as soon as we can," Foran tells The Australian. "We think that will generate some pretty good demand."
Foran says his team is already starting to "pull together all the flight plans, details, weights and weather conditions", which could indicate a 2022 departure for the globe-striding Auckland-New York service.
Strong demand for non-stop flights
Qantas also intends to revisit its paused plans for Project Sunrise, which was to see a fleet of ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets spearing out from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to the likes of New York, London, Paris and Frankfurt.
"At the end of 2021 we can revisit (Project Sunrise) and look at what's the appropriate time" to set things back in motion, Joyce remarked earlier this year.
"People in the post-Covid world will want to fly direct" rather than make stopovers, "which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-Covid."
"This is one of the big things that will change in the next decade, and allow us to have a suitable competitive advantage that nobody else is probably going to introduce."
Qantas has already confirmed that Sydney will be the launch city for the first Project Sunrise flights "once international travel recovers and this investment goes ahead."
As previously reported, Foran's plan to steer Air New Zealand back into financially clear skies will see all of its Boeing 777-300ER jets retired over the coming years, with the advanced fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner becoming the airline's sole long-range aircraft.
The "all-787 fleet" will include the Boeing 787-10 as of 2025, which will also will see the debut of Air New Zealand's all-new Business Premier business class along with a 'business plus' section in the front row.