Boeing is ahead of schedule in reaching what Air New Zealand says is a major milestone in building the airline's 787-9 Dreamliner.
The first major part for the aircraft's tailplane has arrived at Boeing's Everett factory in Seattle, three weeks ahead of schedule.
"The aircraft is approaching the crucial final assembly phase which means the horizontal stabiliser section that arrived this week from another US based Boeing facility is the first of many that will be delivered to Seattle over the coming weeks to form the world's first ever 787-9 aircraft," the airline said.
While the Dreamliner programme was three years behind schedule and has been knocked back by battery fire problems this year, Boeing says Air New Zealand's next generation aircraft will be delivered early next year.
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Air New Zealand's chief executive Christopher Luxon said the the airline would get 10 of the aircraft between 2014 and 2017.
"It's hugely exciting to see the first ever 787-9 taking shape because of the significant growth opportunities these aircraft present for our business. Having 10 new long haul aircraft enter our fleet over the next four years means we will be able to add more capacity and greater frequency to existing destinations, as well as explore new destination opportunities throughout the Pacific Rim," he said.
Although the airline has not been specific, the aircraft has the capability of opening up markets in Latin America and India.
The airline is the launch customer for the 787-9 which is longer than the 787-8 currently in operation although the final number of seats and cabin configuration has not been determined.
"Not only does this herald a significant growth phase for us, we'll be able to do it with super efficient new aircraft. These aircraft use 20 per cent less fuel than similar size alternatives which means they're both cost effective to operate and environmentally sound."
The vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Randy Tinseth said receiving the first major part was "an exciting and visible sign of the progress" on the 787-9.
Air New Zealand said it planned to use the aircraft to operate on the airline's international network from mid 2014.