United Airlines has shelved plans for direct flights between Houston and Auckland using its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, following a decision to allow competitor Southwest Airlines to begin international flights from Houston.
Earlier this year United sidestepped plans to debut its Boeing 787 on a new Auckland-Houston service, choosing Denver-Tokyo as the March 2013 launch route for the next-gen jet.
The non-stop flight between Auckland and Houston hinged on the long range, high fuel efficiency and mid-sized passenger load of the Boeing 787 to be commercially viable said Jeff Smisek, president and CEO of United Airlines.
“That market is dependent on the 787 – we will not fly that route without the 787” Smisek told Australian Business Traveller in 2010. “But with the 787 we can make money on that route.”
Latest: United has revealed the first international routes for its 787 – click here for the details.
Auckland-Houston Dreamliner dreams dashed
However, United overnight cancelled the Houston-Auckland route after Southwest Airlines won permission to run international flights out of Houston's William P. Hobby Airport – a move opposed by United, which flies overseas from the city's much larger George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport.
It's estimated that upgrading Hobby Airport to full international standard – which will includes designing and building five new gates and a customs facility, at a cost to Southwest of over US$100 million – will take over two years to complete, with international flights starting in 2015.
In a bulletin issued to staff, United's Smisek said one implication of the Southwest ruling was "not flying our previously announced service from IAH (the code for Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport) to Auckland, New Zealand."
"That flight was heavily dependent on connecting traffic through IAH" Smisek said, but it would now "no longer be economically feasible to fly the 787 on that route, since there will be a drain on international traffic from IAH."
Earlier this week United spokesman Christen David said his airline planned Houston-Auckland flights "on the assumption that (Bush Intercontinental) would be the sole international airport, maximizing connecting traffic. If that isn't the case, the (Houston-Auckland) flight won't work."
Responding to the news, Auckland Airport CEO Simon Moutter said "It is very disappointing that this important new service connecting New Zealand and the United States has been caught up up a local Houston dispute over airports."
"We firmly believe New Zealand needs more air-capacity to North America and more carrier choice, and that Auckland remains an an attractive proposition for airlines" Moutter said.
"We’ll continue to talk to United to connect to Auckland about options to connect to Auckland, and we will now increase our level of engagement with other carriers to explore a number of viable opportunities. We are confident of converting one of these opportunities in coming months.
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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.