Air New Zealand, the launch customer for the new larger Boeing 787-9 variant of the Dreamliner, has confirmed it will initially deploy the jets on its long-haul routes to Shanghai and Tokyo, although the type will also see service on medium-haul routes to destinations such as Honolulu, Papeete and Perth. The first prototype 787-9 is due to roll-off the production line at Boeing’s Seattle facility next month, but it will be around a year before the type enters commercial service with the New Zealand flag carrier.
The Star Alliance member is expected to receive the first of ten 787-9s that it has on order in the middle of next year and will add two further examples before the end of the year. As revealed by Air New Zealand, these will initially be used on existing routes, but plans are already been discussed to use the long-range aircraft on new routes from 2015, with Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon describing the aircraft as a “game changer” for the airline.
“This modern flexible fuel efficient aircraft will not only replace our current fleet of Boeing 767s, it also represents a significant growth opportunity for our business and opens up the prospect of expanding our Pacific Rim footprint,” he said.
The 787-9 is a larger version of the 787 Dreamliner, able to carry about 40 more passengers and fly slightly farther than the current model, which carries around 250 passengers. Boeing has secured over 350 orders from more than 20 customers for the type. At the recent Paris Air Show, Boeing launched a further stretched version of the aircraft, the 787-10, with orders from British Airways, Singapore Airlines and United and lessors Air Lease and GECAS.
Air New Zealand has not revealed its precise configuration for the 787-9 but confirms that it will offer a four-class layout with a Business Premier cabin, a Premium Economy cabin with what it describes as a “business lite” seat, a 16 row Economy cabin that provides its Skycouch seats (a row of three seats that converts into a sofa like flat surface) and a standard Economy cabin.
According to Luxon, the addition of the 787-9 to the Air New Zealand fleet means the airline will be able to offer a consistent product experience across its long haul fleet, and will see the Skycouch available on routes into Asia for the first time. “Given our 787-9’s will be multiple purpose aircraft – operating both long and mid haul sectors – we’ve put a lot of research effort into coming up with four distinct seating selections that meet the customer expectations across the markets it will serve,” added Luxon.