Update | United will now launch its Boeing 787 in March 31st 2013, on a route between Denver and Tokyo, having cancelled plans for the originally-promised Houston-Auckland route.
Previous | With Boeing’s first 787 Dreamliner now out of the factory and almost ready for flights with launch customer ANA (we've got photos and video here), United-Continental remains hopeful of introducing its first 787 into commercial service in the first half of next year.
The radical next-gen airliner will debut on a new non-stop route between Auckland and Houston – United’s first service in New Zealand, and one which is well-suited to the long-haul jetliner.
Alison Espley, General Manager of Australia and New Zealand for United, told Australian Business Traveller that while the timetable was “dependent on Boeing’s delivery program”, early-mid 2012 was now a likely date for “United-Continental to take delivery of the 787, which we will be operating between Auckland and Houston.” That service was previously slated to begin in November this year, Espley said.
The non-stop flight between Auckland and Houston relies on the long range, fuel efficiency and modest passenger load of the 787 to be commercially viable for United says Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Airlines.
“That market is dependent on the 787 – we will not fly that route without the 787” Smisek told Australian Business Traveller late last year. “But with the 787 we can make money on that route.”
The Auckland-Houston service is noteworthy because it directly connects two major hubs operated by Star Alliance partners without requiring an expensive and time-consuming stopover such as Los Angeles.
It also illustrates how the 787 could open up other new routes which are beyond the range of today’s mid-size airliners but uneconomical for larger-capacity aircraft like the 747-400.
United’s 25 787-8 Dreamliners, which it inherited from the merger with Continental, were previously announced as sporting a simple two-class configuration, with 36 flat-bed seats in the business cabin and 192 seats in economy. However, this cabin layout could be changed by United into a more familiar three-class (with premium economy) before the Dreamliner is wheeled out of the factory.
The Auckland-Houston flight was originally announced as a daily service, but would run five-times-weekly during certain unspecified periods in the first year of operation.
The preliminary schedule saw an afternoon departure from Auckland at 3:40pm with arrival into Houston at 11:50am the same day; the return journey would leave Houston at 9:30pm and reach Auckland at 5:10am two days later.