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Current as of 19/12/14 03:40PM NZST

New 'cuddle class' fleet marks dramatic changes

By Maria Slade

New seating designs plus wine-tasting and, for the children, storytelling, will be part of the 777-300s. Photo / Natalie Slade
New seating designs plus wine-tasting and, for the children, storytelling, will be part of the 777-300s. Photo / Natalie Slade

The handover of Air New Zealand's first 777-300 aircraft at Boeing's Seattle facility is the biggest development in commercial air travel in 30 years, says the airline's group general manager of international.

Ed Sims said the project to fit out the national carrier's new fleet of five 777s with innovative products such as the lie flat economy seat, the Skycouch, was the high point of his career.

The airline industry had delivered three major innovations in the past 30 years, he said - lie flat business class, premium economy, and seatback inflight entertainment.

On one plane Air New Zealand was confident it was delivering at least five "game-changing developments".

As well as Skycouch and the Premium Economy Space Seat, the 777-300 will have interactive inflight entertainment, allowing passengers to order food and drinks, upload content from YouTube, text the concierge and book movies to fit in with when they wish to eat and sleep during the flight.

There will be wine tastings in one of the galleys, and storytelling for children in another. Food will be cooked on board rather than reheated. There is wallpaper in the bathrooms.

Nothing on board will look like any other airliner, said Sims. "We knew there wasn't one element of the current interior that we wanted to leave as it was."

The delays on the new generation 787 had allowed Air New Zealand more time and leeway to develop the product, he said.

The Dreamliner, made of composites and therefore much lighter, cost-efficient and easier on passengers, has been delayed at least three years. The first 787-9 model was due to be delivered at the same time as the 777s and get the same fitout.

Air New Zealand had negotiated compensation for the delays, and gained credit in the "favour bank" with Boeing, Sims said.

This had allowed it to be more creative with its designs for the 777 interior, particularly given that the innovations were being built for just five aircraft.

"We would not have had the time to roll out that model in a cookie-cutter plane like the 787."

Thirty airlines around the world were in talks with Air New Zealand about buying the product, Sims said.

It was the most radical total interior fitout Boeing had done, said Michael Pervan, general manager of Air New Zealand subsidiary Altitude Aerospace Interiors, which worked on the design. "They were really nervous."

The 777 fitout is codenamed Kupe, after the Maori explorer.

Wayne Mitcham, manager of the Kupe ambassador programme, has been travelling the world with models of the new seating showcasing them at trade shows. There was enormous interest, he said. "No other airline has given any thought to economy class."

Work on fitting out Air New Zealand's second 777-300 is under way at Boeing, and the third one is due for delivery in April.

The first new airliner makes its debut flight back to New Zealand tonight, touching down in Auckland tomorrow morning.

* Maria Slade is the business editor of the Herald on Sunday and travelled to Seattle courtesy of Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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