Air New Zealand is poised to announce new-model Boeing Dreamliners as its next tranche of widebody planes in one of its most important fleet decisions in the past 15 years.
The airline will early next week officially unveil the replacement for its eight 777-200s, with widespread reports of Boeing winning a battle over Airbus for the deal which is valued at between $1.5 billion and $2.3b depending on discounts, deals with engine makers and the nature of maintenance agreements.
Following a two-year process the airline narrowed down its options to a new iteration of the Dreamliner, which it has been flying for the past five years, and the Airbus A350, of which more than 500 are in service.
Chief financial officer Jeff McDowall, a central figure in fleet planning, told the Herald this month that both were excellent planes well suited to the airline's aspiration of flying as far as Auckland-New York in the future.
He said the Boeing 777X, which is still in development, had been considered but was not in the running this time, more likely an option further down the track for the airline's younger and larger 777-300s.
Reports from Reuters, citing anonymous sources and without specifying the aircraft type, said Boeing had won the battle, making new Dreamliners the only aircraft still in contention.
Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon told the Herald on board the airline's inaugural flight to Chicago late last year that a differently configured Dreamliner could give the airline the scope to fly further.
Boeing had presented new options for the 787 which, aside from the Rolls-Royce engine issues, has been a highly successful plane for the airline and was "continuing to improve as a platform."
The airline had met the growing demand for premium and premium economy seats by reducing the number of economy seats by 50 and cutting overall capacity to 275 in its "Code 2" Dreamliners. and Luxon said then further reducing the overall number of seats would give the plane even more range, while catering for the growing number of high-end leisure travellers.
This year a CAPA Centre for Aviation report says ordering additional 787s would make the most sense as the 777-8X is too big and the A350 would result in Air New Zealand operating a third wide-body type — something which should be avoided given the airline's relatively small size - and Boeing was working on increasing the 787-9s maximum takeoff weight (MOTW) by around 10 per cent or 2.5 tonnes.
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The higher MOTW variant should be available by 2022 and improve the feasibility of New York-Auckland and Sao Paulo-Auckland routes, the centre said.
The airline had the opportunity to switch engine makers with new Dreamliners after more than 18 months of disruption caused by Trent 1000 on many of the 13 Dreamliners now in the Air New Zealand fleet.
The airline is confident new model Rolls-Royce engines will be more reliable, but it now has the opportunity to go for General Electric engines on new 787s.
From having up to five Dreamliners grounded at one time, Air New Zealand will soon have only one out of action while engine repairs are carried out in Singapore.
While Boeing is suffering fallout from the 737MAX scandal where new systems have been linked to two fatal crashes, 787 aircraft don't have the same equipment.
There have, however, been recent reports of shoddy work on the planes at a Boeing plant in South Carolina. Air New Zealand has said it has no concerns about the aircraft made for it at the plant and that it had overseen manufacturing.
New-version Dreamliners would not be noticeably different from the outside but Air NZ cabins will be completely remodelled by the time the planes are delivered in three years' time.
Extensive work is being done transforming the business class cabin, where Air NZ faces growing competition from other long-haul airlines.
The airline was silent today on the fleet call, a spokeswoman saying only, ''We have not made an announcement on the replacement aircraft for our Boeing 777-200 fleet.''
Air New Zealand was early to commit to the Dreamliner, at the beginning of this century signing the deal in 2004 when it was still known as the 7E7.
An investor day is being held on Monday, a logical time for an announcement that will provide impetus for the airline, which is undergoing a cost review in the face of weakening network growth and stubbornly high fuel prices.