Air New Zealand has insisted the 787-9 is the “right aircraft” to fly its ‘non-stop’ service between Auckland and New York after again warning passengers that a layover would be required.
It comes despite the airline also being set to take delivery of new, specially adapted Dreamliners for the route in 2024 that will carry fewer passengers and effectively extend its range.
Critics have suggested the current 787-9’s range simply isn’t long enough to accommodate the 16 or 17-hour flight if unforeseen events cause it to have to slightly change its route.
This week, NZ1 was originally due to make a stopover in Fiji because of strong headwinds before a last-minute U-turn saw it fly direct.
This is not the first time the new service, the fourth-longest in the world, has run into complications with its nonstop promise, with a previous flight asking 15 passengers to get off the aircraft to save weight. Another instead removed luggage and put it on another flight.
The distance issues come because the 787-9s have a traditional range of 14,010km, far shorter than the A350-1000s that Qantas will eventually use to fly Project Sunrise flights to New York and London, which can travel for near 18,000km.
On Friday, the business’ chief operational integrity officer, David Morgan, told Australian Aviation that working on ultra-long-haul flights is “challenging”.
“The plans we had in place were based on a level of operational surety – but we have come up against some challenges with weather outside our usual forecasting,” he said.
“Because extra fuel is needed when the weather doesn’t play in our favour, we’ve had to make a number of changes, including reducing payload, to operate the flight safely, and these changes will flow through for the next few months. A number of airlines have been disrupted by this same weather pattern and it is common practice to reduce customer numbers on flights when weather calls for it.”
Air New Zealand previously stated that a stop in Nadi was always on the cards in scenarios where severe weather patterns become an issue, demonstrating that this move was not unexpected. The business has though compensated affected customers accordingly.
“We are incredibly sorry to those customers who have been disrupted and where needed, passengers received compensation and hotel accommodation. As it’s important we run this as a non-stop service as promised, we’re making some adjustments to give customers more surety of that and we’re confident this route is going to be a success,” added Morgan.
“While forecasted weather conditions have meant we have made plans to make a fuel stop in Nadi twice, on both occasions, we were able to operate the flight non-stop through to Auckland.”
Despite concerns being raised over Air New Zealand’s choice of aircraft for the service, Morgan has stated that the “Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is the right aircraft for this route, and we’ve now brought almost 7,000 people on the service”.
“Our new 787 aircraft, arriving in 2024, will be more efficient, have more premium seating, and of course, the Skynest to make it an even better experience. This is an important route for Air New Zealand and New Zealand tourism.”