's overhaul of its domestic and international fleets is set to accelerate in 2014, as the arrival of advanced widebody and narrowbody jets hastens the retirement of fleet types that have been the airline's workhorses for the past few decades.
Next year is shaping up to be one of the busiest for aircraft deliveries in the airline's history, with-9s and and entering the fleet. The most-watched of these will be the introduction of the 787-9, as the carrier is the launch customer for the stretched version of the 787. The routes chosen by Air New Zealand will be the first flown by any airline with the -9.
The carrier is now expecting the first 787 to arrive in July 2014. A further two are due around September, for a total of three by the end of next year, says CEO Christopher Luxon. The carrier has 10 of the aircraft on order, and it appears that the 787-9 delivery schedule has not been affected by the high-profile battery problem that grounded all 787-8s in service earlier this year, and put a temporary hold on new deliveries.
The airline's plan of where it will deploy its 787s is gradually becoming clearer. Air New Zealand has revealed that its initial 787-9 deliveries will be used on existing long-haul flights from Auckland to Shanghai and Tokyo, and mid-range flights to Perth, Australia; Honolulu, and Papeete, which is the capital of Tahiti. The first aircraft will be flown on Auckland-Perth services initially, the carrier tells Aviation Week. Shanghai and Tokyo will be the next routes for the 787s, and both will feature this type by the end of 2014. The -9 may also be used on some other Australian services at times.
Air New Zealand will likely open the first all-new 787 routes in 2015.
The 787 routes revealed so far are mainly operated by-300ERs at present. The first priority for the 787s will be replacing the existing fleet of five 767-300ERs, which will be phased out as the newer aircraft arrive.
The company intends to focus its long-haul fleet on two basic types—the 787s and777s. The carrier has taken delivery of five new 777-300ERs since December 2010, joining its fleet of eight 777-200ERs. In a subsequent deal, Air New Zealand has leased two more -300ERs that are due to arrive in July and October next year.
As well as enabling the phaseout of the 767s, the arrival of new widebodies next year will coincide with the retirement of the last of Air New Zealand's-400 fleet. It only has two left now, and they will be sold. A series of program delays for the 787 meant Air New Zealand—like other carriers—had to keep its older fleet types in service longer than it intended.
Even though it is already dealing with major fleet changes, Air New Zealand is also looking further ahead. The airline will begin a process of deciding on the next phase of its fleet plan within the next 18 months, Luxon says.
The next aircraft type that will eventually need replacing will be the eight Boeing 777-200ERs. However, Luxon notes that these are still “quite modern aircraft,” and the carrier could operate them until about 2020 if it needs to. Air New Zealand will be investing NZ$100 million ($77.8 million) in a cabin upgrade program for this fleet next year.
Chief Pilot David Morgan says the airline has issued a request for information (RFI) from manufacturers regarding their widebody programs. He says this is to “get a sense of what's out there in the market,” and is not aimed at a near-term order.
There are also significant changes occurring in the narrowbody fleet, highlighted by Air New Zealand recently taking delivery of its first Airbus A320 fitted with wingtip devices known as sharklets.
The carrier has nine sharklet-equipped A320s remaining on order, which are scheduled to be delivered through September 2015. These are part of an order for 14 A320s placed by Air New Zealand in 2009 for its domestic fleet. The first four have already been delivered without sharklets.
These aircraft are replacing-300s, which are currently used on domestic routes. There are 12 of these aircraft remaining in the fleet. Morgan notes that the 737s should retain some value, since they are among the last -300s to come off the production line.
Swapping the 737s for A320s will boost domestic capacity somewhat—the A320s are configured for 171 passengers versus 133 for the 737s.
Air New Zealand also already operates a separate fleet of 13 A320s configured for short-haul international flights, primarily to Australia. Morgan says the airline would be interested in retrofitting these aircraft with sharklets if Airbus decides to offer such an option. The international A320s are still relatively young—10 years or less—so are not near replacement.
The airline was the first customer to order the sharklet-equipped A320s. However, other airlines have received the aircraft before Air New Zealand. Airbus executives say more than 70 A320s have been delivered with sharklets, to 23 airlines.
As well as increasing fuel efficiency, the sharklets provide many benefits, says Morgan. They provide more lift, which can often increase payload. Aircraft also climb more quickly, helping to reduce airport noise. The latest A320 delivery is also the first in Air New Zealand's fleet to have a head-up display for the pilot.
Along with all the fleet changes, Air New Zealand is also rolling out a new livery. Last year the airline announced it would be changing its traditional teal blue color scheme on the vertical stabilizer to black. In a further modification unveiled recently, it will extend the black down the rear part of the fuselage and add a large silver fern design, also retaining the well-known Maori Koru symbol.
A few aircraft in the fleet already have fuselages painted entirely black, and this will still be the case when the new livery is rolled out. Black is the color typically worn by New Zealand's national sports teams, and the silver fern is a national symbol.