As what's being dubbed the ''golden age'' of travel enters another year here's some of what's on the horizon for Kiwi air travellers this year.
Air New Zealand's next big leap has been long-awaited but Chicago appears to have the inside running. The airline is keen to fly deeper into the US and the city is alliance partner United Airlines' biggest hub so there are plenty of connecting flights. Air New Zealand is also piling capacity into existing routes in the Pacific Rim. The Qantas ground-breaking Australia-Britain connection using a Dreamliner from Perth to London will also appeal to Kiwis wanting to stop in Perth rather than Asia, the Middle East or the United States.
New airlines eyeing this market
The rate of new airline growth levelled off over the past year but this country with its enduring appeal to international tourists is still being scoped. Air Canada — which has built up its international widebody fleet and is expanding aggressively — is one contender for New Zealand. Former Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe is on its board and he knows a thing or two about the local market and national carrier here. Air Canada has increased flying to Australia, often a precursor by airlines to fly here. XiamenAir, based in China's coastal Fujian province, is also a strong contender. However, jet fuel prices are up 20 per cent on a year ago and this is a big consideration for airlines contemplating long-haul routes and could lead other more marginal operations to pull back from New Zealand.
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New planes are coming
Air NZ is due to get the first of its new engine option Airbus A320s and A321s later this year. The new planes have been delayed by a year after development and manufacturing holdups at engine maker Pratt & Whitney. Dreamliners are increasingly ubiquitous in New Zealand - another airline due to join that club is Air Tahiti Nui later this year with 787-9s replacing some of the last four-engine planes seen here, the A340. Elsewhere the stretched versions of the Dreamliner and the Airbus A350XWB will early this year join Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways fleets. Boeing is getting closer to making its next generation widebody, the folding wing 777X (pictured above). Final assembly of a prototype will take place this year with flight tests due next year. Development work on Denver-based Boom Supersonic's passenger plane has been boosted by investment from Japan's JAL.
More, and less, competition
Hawaii is shaping up as a big battleground route with Hawaiian Airlines and Air NZ laying on substantially more capacity between Auckland and Honolulu from March. Return fares have already dropped close to $600, a third of what they typically were before Hawaiian started flying. On the Tasman the withdrawal in March of Emirates' A380s to Brisbane and Melbourne from Auckland means fewer seats even though Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air NZ are putting on more flights. It remains one of the world's most competitive routes which should keep a lid on fare increases.
Better premium products
Singapore and Emirates have launched ritzy new semi-private and private suites in some first-class cabins and Qatar will bring its flash Q-suite-equipped Boeing 777-300s (pictured above) to Sydney and Canberra next month. While this latest top line luxury is not directly available from New Zealand, Kiwis who want to splurge will connect to these planes at other airports.
More domestic flights
This summer Air New Zealand has 180,000 extra seats on its domestic network and this will expand further in April with extra flights between Queenstown and Wellington, announced the day after Qantas-owned Jetstar said it would resume flying the route. Domestic is a big part of Air NZ's revenue and it is not about to cut its Australian rival a break on its home patch. Jetstar runs a lean operation in this country, Qantas prioritises its lucrative home market too.