Air New Zealand's launch of non-stop flights between Auckland and New York will be pushed back until "late 2021 at the earliest", the airline says, leaving scope that it could be delayed even further into 2022.
Originally slated to take wing on October 20, the 14,200km marathon journey was to become AirNZ's flagship route, with a reconfigured Boeing 787-9 carrying more premium passengers – but an lower overall headcount – for flights which would take up to 17h40m on the return leg.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic, and Nick Judd, Air New Zealand's Chief Networks, Strategy and Alliances Officer, says demand for international travel has been tracking at about five percent of pre-COVID-19 levels into June.
“It’s deeply disappointing to be in this position," Judd says. "Our people have worked tenaciously over the years to build these markets and excitement was growing for our non-stop New York flight."
“However, the effects of COVID-19 continue to bite; we expect most countries to take a cautious approach to international travel in the next year and we have to be pragmatic."
Auckland-Buenos Aires axed
The same pragmatism will see Air New Zealand not restart the Auckland-Buenos Aires route, which was suspended earlier this year in the first wave of COVID-19 cancellations.
"Argentina has been challenging before the pandemic, and we don’t expect this market to recover quickly," Judd admitted.
In addition, the airline's Los Angeles-London service – which was already due to cease from October 2020 – is now gone for good, with Judd forecasting that "government travel restrictions will continue for some time and demand for our Los Angeles-London service is unlikely to recover before our planned exit in October."
As earlier reported by Executive Traveller, Air New Zealand now expects all Boeing 777 passenger flights to be grounded until April 2021, with the Boeing 777-200s potentially facing an earlier retirement as new Boeing 787-10s join the fleet – although delivery dates for the Dreamliners have also been pushed back slightly.
"The use of the 777 fleet will largely be determined by the rate of border reopening," Air New Zealand Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace tells Executive Traveller, which he expects to be a gradual process on a per-country basis.
A necessary focus on short-term survival has also put the brakes on the airline's launch of all-new business class seats, slated for the Boeing 787-10 as well as a retrofit to some of the Boeing 777 fleet as a replacement for the current decade-old sleepers.
"Like all airlines we've put a pause on capital expenditure, our focus is on getting our costs down as quickly as we possibly can," Wallace says.
"We still have aspirations for new products and new services as new planes come in, but that's work for a later date. We're just managing our way through this crisis at the moment, but that will be top of mind once we get some more stability in the business."