Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flights will start on the Auckland-Sydney route this Saturday August 9th as flights NZ103 from Auckland to Sydney and NZ104 on the return across the pond.
Those flights, which had previously been tipped but not confirmed for the Dreamliner's inaugural, are now appearing on Air New Zealand's website.
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The airline is aiming for a daily service to train up its Dreamliner crew and ensure that all systems are in place to support the Boeing 787-9’s Auckland-Perth inaugural on October 15.
However, double daily flights between Auckland and Sydney are also on the cards, as is an early start to the Perth service.
"The (Boeing) 787-9 is schedule to operate between Auckland and Sydney on a surprise and delight basis from 9 August" an Air New Zealand spokeswoman confirmed to Australian Business Traveller, adding that “all else being equal, this will be the first ‘commercial’ flight (of the Boeing 787-9).”
(That qualification is a response to ANA's trumpeted claim to the first commercial Boeing 787-9 flight on August 5, which the Kiwi carrier was quick to point out was a 'non-revenue' charter flight.)
The spokeswoman was unable to confirm which of Air New Zealand’s four daily services between Auckland and Sydney would be used for the Dreamliner flights.
However, Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 programme director Kerry Reeves told Australian Business Traveller that while he “wasn’t exactly sure which flight number we’re targeting, it will be a middle of the day flight, a mid-morning departure from Auckland.”
(If that forecast holds true then the odds appear to favour flight NZ103, which departs Auckland at 9am to reach Sydney at 10.30am, with the return as NZ104.)
The Boeing 787 will be swapped into flights which currently see a Boeing 767 or an Airbus A320, Reeves said.
“We want want to fly this plane as soon as we’re ready. We’ll make a decision a few days out that we’re ready to go, then we’ll reload the booking system for the 787.”
Auckland frequent flyer and aviation enthusiast Nicholas Young has already booked his seat on the NZ103 and NZ104 flights on August 9, purchasing a flexible economy ticket in case the Dreamliner doesn't end up assigned to those flights.
"Since flying the first commercial Airbus A380 service into New Zealand – an Emirates flight in 2009 – I've been hooked on inaugural flights" Young told Australian Business Traveller.
"I've been fond of the Boeing 787 ever since it was first announced, and with Air New Zealand being my hometown airline this inaugural holds special appeal."
“Our target is to fly every day, although obviously with only one aircraft we’ll have to take it out for checks at various times” Reeves explained.
“Then we’ll get to a point where we might try to do two daily returns with the aircraft. That will be about testing our metal as it were, but we want to make sure we’re comfortable and we stress-test our own organisation to cope with tight 75 minute turnarounds.”
Under those circumstances, Reeves said the double-daily Dreamliner run would likely commence with the first flight of the day from Auckland to Sydney.
“Then we’d go back to New Zealand, turn around and come back again.”
These preliminary flights are all about training up the airline’s crew to become intimately familiar with working on the Boeing 787-9 before stepping up to Auckland-Perth flights.
“With the Sydney return, going over and back in a day, our crew can do that for a number of days in a row. You can quickly get to a (high) level of crew that are fully qualified and then move to long-haul flying.”
Reeves said that original plans to also fly the Dreamliner to Melbourne and Brisbane during this ‘breaking in’ period were scuttled to keep the focus on a single destination.
“We didn’t see the the value in going to other ports than Sydney because with the set-up, the tooling, the spares and materiel, it’s far better to have these concentrated at one port so can get some familiarisation and routine going.”
Upgrades for some frequent flyers
Turning up at your gate to see a shiny new Dreamliner waiting to whisk you across the pond is only part of the ‘surprise and delight’ factor in store for trans-Tasman travellers.
Top-tier members of Air New Zealand’s Airpoints frequent flyer scheme who have booked into economy class on those flights will find themselves upgraded into the Boeing 787-9’s all-new premium economy cabin (seen below).
“On the trans-Tasman sector we don’t see premium economy as a product now anyway, so what we’ll do is put out high-value customers who are flying economy in those seats” Reeves told Australian Business Traveller.
Early start for Perth
The Auckland-Sydney flights will likely wind down at the end of September as Air New Zealand makes ready to swing the Dreamliner onto its scheduled Auckland-Perth service from October 15.
But the Kiwi carrier isn’t standing on ceremony.
“We’ll be in a position to fly between Auckland and Perth from October 15, that’s our target and that’s when we know we can guarantee the aircraft” Reeves told Australian Business Traveller.
But he said the airline “absolutely will” fly the 787 to Perth before that, although without being locked into a daily service.
“It will be that we will choose to go on this day, and maybe not the next day.”
Air New Zealand will begin Boeing 787-9 flights from Auckland to Shanghai and Tokyo once its two more Dreamliners arrive from Seattle in September and October this year.
More destinations will be added in 2015 with the delivery of three more Dreamliners in July, August and October, with two more in 2016 and again in 2017 to complete the airine's initial order of 10 Boeing 787-9s.
Air New Zealand is the first of six airlines which will begin flying the Boeing 787-9 this year.
United Airlines will begin direct flights between Los Angeles and Melbourne from October 28 which will ditch the current dogleg route via Sydney.
Scoot's Dreamliner debut in December is tipped for Singapore-Sydney, while Etihad Airways will bring its Boeing 787-9 to Brisbane from June 2015.
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.