Air New Zealand is set to benefit from Qantas' challenge to plane makers for aircraft capable of flying non-stop to the eastern United States and Europe.

Plane makers Airbus and Boeing are competing to supply an aircraft capable of serving routes that are well beyond the longest flown now.

Air New Zealand will replace its eight-strong Boeing 777-200 fleet from 2022 and is looking for a plane capable of flying from Auckland to New York or to cities in Brazil without stopping.

Its needs are similar to those outlined in Qantas' Programme Sunrise - non-stop flights from Sydney to Europe or the east coast of the United States with planes that can carry full loads of passengers and cargo.

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Salesmen for both Airbus and Boeing are at the International Air Transport Association meeting in Sydney and said the needs of Qantas and Air New Zealand were similar.

Boeing is pitching its 777-X, still under development, but it will have new wings and engines promising less fuel burn and efficiency that will allow the longest range variation of the plane to fly up to 9200 nautical miles (17,038km). That would make the Auckland-New York journey of 14,185km.

''New Zealand and Australia, [have] similar in-range requirements and there's a lot of opportunities that each group of carriers could take advantage of,'' said Darren Hulst, our managing director of market analysis and sales support for Boeing commercial airplanes.

''Air New Zealand has [already] been pushing the envelope with the 787 and 777,'' he said.

The 777-X will have a longer wing than current models and the tip of it will fold up allowing them to park at any airport.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has just certified the folding tips of the carbon fiber wing and Hulst said the first test aircraft would fly next year.

The larger 777X-9 was on target for delivery in 2020 and the longer range 777X-8 was on schedule for about 2022 - around the time when needed by Air New Zealand and Qantas.

While those aircraft are still being developed at Boeing's Seattle plant, rival Airbus already has the long-range version of its A350XWB airborne, with delivery to Singapore Airlines later this year on schedule.

The A350ULR has a published range 9700 miles (17964.4km) and from October will serve a record-breaking route between Singapore and New York, but the premium-heavy configuration for the 19-hour flight means there are just 161 seats.

The A350-10, about to be delivered to Cathay Pacific, is also being promoted as a solution to the range needs of Qantas and Air New Zealand.

The two Australasian airlines last Friday surprised observers by signing a code-share deal on each other's respective domestic routes and said that could lead them to work more closely together on some technical projects.

Eric Schulz, chief commercial officer for Airbus, said his company was in constant communication with Air New Zealand.

''If we develop a solution for Qantas that would be available for others,'' Schulz said. "The overall operating conditions are not that different from Qantas - if there is a solution here it's likely that others will benefit as well.''

There would not be a big market for these ultra long range planes.

"I will not pretend that we will sell 1500 airplanes - a reasonable assumption could be in the neighbourhood of 50 or 100 airplanes."

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says his airline will send out a request for information to plane makers later this year for them to pitch their aircraft. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says his airline will send out a request for information to plane makers later this year for them to pitch their aircraft. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Air New Zealand's chief executive Christopher Luxon is also in Sydney for IATA and said his airline would send out a request for information to plane makers later this year for them to pitch their aircraft.

''We have to cut through some of the sales patter and work out for ourselves what the performance of those respective aircraft would be and more importantly think about it in the context of the missions we want to fly and where we see the future of business being.''

Luxon said to help build a more ''muscular New Zealand'' new long-range planes were needed, but work started at home. His airline would add routes such as Wanaka to its domestic network and strengthen ports such as Gisborne to build tourism.

A second part of that strategy was to bring Australians across the Tasman to hub out of New Zealand to North and South America leveraging this country's advantage of being three hours closer. The airline also wanted to have passengers from China and South East Asia hub through New Zealand to South America.

An Airbus A350ULR takes off at Toulouse. The aircraft will enter service later this year. Photo / Supplied
An Airbus A350ULR takes off at Toulouse. The aircraft will enter service later this year. Photo / Supplied

"Those are the three strands of our growth plan and puts into focus places like New York, Rio and Sao Paulo. At that point you're looking at 18-hours flights so have find out what our customers think about that.''

The airline had learned from its Auckland-Houston route and was confident that passengers on its upcoming Chicago service would appreciate direct flying.

''Those are missions we want to fly, so [in] that context we've got to back through all of the efficiency conversations about how these aircraft will or won't do that,'' he said.

Air New Zealand has a project underway to design new cabins for its new long-haul aircraft, working with frequent fliers on new seats and other products.

• Grant Bradley travelled to Sydney courtesy of IATA.