Air New Zealand considered dropping its new service to Seoul, as more problems with Rolls-Royce engines in its Dreamliners emerged over the past week.
The airline starts its non-stop service to the South Korean capital tomorrow in its biggest long-haul play of the year. At the same time, it is preparing to cancel some Dreamliner services to other destinations over summer because of the engine problems.
Services to Perth from Christchurch are most affected by cancellations as Rolls struggles to find slots to work on engines that could have turbine blade problems.
Air New Zealand chief strategy, networks and alliances officer Nick Judd said all Dreamliner routes were assessed.
• American Airlines' big New Zealand move - Auckland to Dallas, Christchurch to LA
• Premium - American Airlines' big NZ push: What's behind it
• Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 makes history in Wellington
• Premium - United Airlines tools up with new Dreamliner to Auckland as American Airlines expansion looms
''Seoul was reviewed like the rest of our network was, but the customer impacts would have been greater there because we only fly three times a week from the start. It's harder to recover those customers than, say, the Christchurch to Perth [route] where we've got our Auckland-Perth service we can put them on,'' he said.
Air New Zealand was close to declaring problems with the Trent engines behind it, but on Monday the airline had to deliver the next bad news. Some newer engines on its 14-strong fleet also required maintenance earlier than expected and Rolls-Royce doesn't have the capacity to do this work quickly.
Judd said it was a balancing act for the airline. ''While we've affected 14,000 people, all those 14,000 people will get to where they need to be.''
Perth-bound passengers could fly on the remaining service from Auckland or travel with Air New Zealand's Australian domestic partner, Qantas, from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
''In the case of Seoul, the consideration was how would you recover those people and how would you get them here?''
According to the airline's Travel Alerts, nearly all affected passengers out of Auckland to Perth, Sydney and Tonga had been re-booked but that work was still underway for passengers flying from Christchurch. Judd said when the airline decided to fly to Seoul - as a result of a network review in February that resulted in other services being scaled back - the impact of engine problems was starting to ease.
''We believed we were going to have enough planes.''
If it had scaled back on Seoul, there would still have been disappointed customers.
''We're really happy with the way the route is building and seen good demand and so that becomes challenging when you have only three flights a week - you start having holes in your schedule.''
The airline took into account two main factors when juggling services as a result of disruption.
''The first one, first and foremost is how do we disrupt the fewest number of people we possibly can. Then we look through a commercial lens. We take flights out that are going to have the least impact from a financial perspective.''
The airline will initially fly three times a week to Seoul and then increase frequency to five times a week during the summer peak.
It has flown to South Korea during the 1990s but pulled out as the Asian Financial Crisis hit travel out of that country.
Numbers plummeted from around 130,000 to just 20,000 or so before it pulled out. Air NZ is now targeting inbound tourists in what is the third biggest Asian market for this country. Although total Korean arrivals were down nearly 6 per cent to 86,600 in the last year, the airline is confident it can stimulate the market in the country of more than 51 million.
In the year to September, nearly 22,000 New Zealand residents visited South Korea, up 10 per cent on 12 months earlier.
The airline hopes the new service will also help connect the estimated 40,000 Koreans already living in New Zealand more conveniently with friends and family in their home country.