Since launching the highly anticipated Auckland to New York City route, Air New Zealand has encountered nothing but issues. What should have been the start of a new era in ultra-long haul travel for the Kiwi airline has instead become a logistical nightmare.
After launching the new route on September 17th, Air New Zealand’s very own American dream is so far throwing up more problems and bad press than the Arizona Cardinals. Alan Joyce may have even noticed a reduction in angry journalists outside his front door this week.
On its inaugural flight from New York, the Kiwi airline was forced to leave 65 passengers’ bags behind in the big apple. To make matters worse, the airline told passengers flying back to Auckland last Friday that they would need to make a refuelling stop at Nadi International Airport in Fiji due to “unusually strong winds”.
But the problems didn’t stop there with the New York to Auckland route. Fifteen passengers from Sunday’s flight leaving John F Kennedy Airport left the plane before take-off to reduce the plane’s payload. So what’s causing all of Air New Zealand’s woes, and is there a solution?
Air New Zealand will be forced to face problems “head-on”
Route planners at Air NZ were possibly blown away by the possibilities of an Auckland to New York direct flight that certain factors were miscalculated. A 17-hour flight is ambitious anywhere in the world, but the return flight to New Zealand provides a head-on challenge that can often be unpredictable.
Headwinds are the culprit in this instance. As the name suggests, these are the winds that hit planes head-on, causing more resistance through the air and therefore forcing the plane to burn through more fuel. Given the fundamental issue relates to the laws of flying, it’s unlikely that the All-Black airline will find a quick fix anytime soon. The preceding few weeks have seen passengers stranded, bags unloaded, and backup pilots being flown several hours to meet the 787-9 Dreamliner halfway as a precaution.
Air New Zealand monitored weather conditions on the route for twelve months prior to the first fight, providing the airline with ample data on a range of conditions. However, the airline put the mishaps down to unusually strong winds during the first week of flights.
“We want to thank our customers for their patience and understanding while we work through this exceptional weather pattern,” said the airline in a statement.
Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan told RNZ’s Morning Report that the aviation industry generally plans for winds in the 80th percentile. Since the launch of the direct New York route, winds have c consistently been above this, topping out at the 98th percentile. As a result, flights departing JFK and heading for Auckland have been taking longer than the scheduled 17 hours and 25 minutes, using more fuel.
The Kiwi airline had anticipated that it would need to fly with a smaller payload on the leg to New Zealand. NZ1, the designated code for the JFK-AKL route, is restricted to 215 passengers. The return journey, NZ2, is capped at 260 passengers, with the journey taking a little over 16 hours with a strong tailwind. Morgan told RNZ that NZ1 would need to be limited to 180 passengers in order to reduce the payload and accommodate the stiff pacific winds they’ve had to battle.
Air New Zealand will likely permanently reduce capacity on NZ1 while the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is in use. Other solutions would’ve proved fundamentally damaging to the airline. A proposed solution was to include a refuelling stop in Nadi, Fiji. However, this would be rather counter-productive as the route is marketed as the airlines’ first direct flight between the two cities.
Another potential solution, though someway in the future, will be the Boeing 787-10, due to be delivered to the airline in 2024. The newer Dreamliner aircraft has fewer seats and is optimised for ultra-long haul journeys. Despite this, the 787-10 comes with a smaller standard range before configuration, meaning the aircraft may still struggle to complete the JFK-AKL leg during blustery conditions.
New Zealand’s national carrier will also have to compete with rivals across the ditch in the form of Australia’s national carrier. From June 14th 2023, Qantas will schedule direct flights from Auckland to the big apple, with the route starting in Australia. The flying kangaroo will use the same 787-9 aircraft as Air New Zealand, but with the added advantage of fewer seats, extending the aircraft’s range. In a statement, Qantas said that the plane will have “more room and fewer seats than most of our competitors.” In addition to this, the Australian carrier will welcome Airbus A350-1000 in 2025, an aircraft with 4000km more range than the 787-9.
For now, Air New Zealand are the sole occupant of the New York City to Auckland route and will have to overcome turbulent conditions to turn the narrative around.