Emirates is already eyeing the possibility of operating its new non-stop service into Auckland with an Airbus A380 super-jumbo, rather than the smaller Boeing 777-200LR that will be used at first.
The Middle Eastern carrier's maiden non-stop flight from Dubai to New Zealand touched down at 10.33am yesterday.
In a last minute switch, Emirates decided to operate the inaugural flight with an A380 as a "special acknowledgement of the support" the airline has received from New Zealand. Subsequent services will be operated with a 777-200LR.
But Emirates president group services, Gary Chapman, said there was potential for the A380 to be used regularly on the non-stop route.
"As demand builds, and it's building very strongly, I can see a time when we have the A380 on it," said Chapman, who flew into Auckland on the inaugural service.
Emirates already operates three daily A380 services from Dubai into Auckland via Australia, as well as a daily Christchurch 777-ER service via Bangkok and Sydney.
Yesterday's special service means four Emirates A380s will be on the ground in Auckland for the first time.
Bigger jet on cards as demand on route builds, says airline
The forward bookings have vindicated this decision.Gary Chapman, Emirates president group services (pictured)
Yesterday's inbound non-stop flight landed early, taking less than 16 hours to cover the 14,000km route.
But the return flight to Dubai - which left Auckland yesterday evening at 9.30pm - will take around 17 hours and 15 minutes, making it the world's longest duration flight until Emirates' first service from Dubai to Panama City later this month.
Chapman said Emirates was having discussions with Ohakea air force base, near Palmerston North, about the potential for its runway to be used as an "alternate" if A380 flights cannot land at Auckland. The current alternative is Christchurch, as Wellington doesn't have a long enough runway for the super-jumbos.
He said Christchurch was about 644km extra distance from Auckland, compared with 322km extra to Ohakea. "That means you have to carry extra fuel, and that has implications," said Chapman, a New Zealander who has been with the airline since 1989. "So if you bring that alternate closer then it makes the operation more viable [for non-stop A380 services]."
He said Emirates was already seeing strong demand for the non-stop flights to Auckland.
"The forward bookings have vindicated this decision," Chapman said. "By taking out Australia, you reduce the travel time by three hours and it enables people coming from Europe and the Middle East and Africa to have one stop into Auckland and vice-versa."
Emirates - the world's biggest long-haul carrier - has flown here for 13 years and its three daily A380 services have built its brand in New Zealand.