Alan Joyce has appeared to tease Air New Zealand’s troubles flying from Auckland to New York as Qantas launches its own rival service today.
Last year, The Kiwi flag carrier ran into a string of issues attempting the ultra-long-haul flight with its own 787-9 Dreamliner, which at one point saw it ask 15 passengers to get off the aircraft to save weight and therefore increase its range.
On Wednesday, Joyce quipped his airline’s flights would feature “more room and fewer seats” than “most of its competitors” and had been designed “with long-haul travel in mind”.
While both airlines use the same aircraft flying the same route, the Flying Kangaroo’s 787-9s carry 236 passengers compared to the 275-seat configuration Air New Zealand uses. The problems became so persistent the smaller airline was eventually forced to cap passenger numbers at just 180.
Qantas also said it used an “advanced cloud-based flight planning system” that “models flight paths, measuring flight times and winds, to determine the optimal route”. Air New Zealand’s problems, meanwhile, were often caused by having to lengthen its flight path to avoid bad weather.
Joyce’s comments come after Air New Zealand’s CEO, Greg Foran, seemingly jumped the gun last year and quipped his staff would give its rival “a good wave when we pass them in the skies“ after launching its service months earlier.
The issues with the flight occur because the workhorse 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.
It means slight variations such as seat configurations and number of passengers can substantially affect the destinations it can reach. Many critics have argued the wide-body isn’t the right choice to attempt a route thought to be the fifth longest in the world.
Air New Zealand, though, told Australian Aviation last year that the Dreamliner was the “right aircraft” to fly its non-stop service – despite the airline being set to take delivery of new, specially adapted 787s for the route in 2024.
Chief operational integrity officer, David Morgan, said 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.”