Even though it is already dealing with major fleet changes, Air New Zealand is also looking further ahead. The airline will begin a process of deciding on the next phase of its fleet plan within the next 18 months, Luxon says.
The next aircraft type that will eventually need replacing will be the eight Boeing 777-200ERs. However, Luxon notes that these are still “quite modern aircraft,” and the carrier could operate them until about 2020 if it needs to. Air New Zealand will be investing NZ$100 million ($77.8 million) in a cabin upgrade program for this fleet next year.
Chief Pilot David Morgan says the airline has issued a request for information (RFI) from manufacturers regarding their widebody programs. He says this is to “get a sense of what's out there in the market,” and is not aimed at a near-term order.
There are also significant changes occurring in the narrowbody fleet, highlighted by Air New Zealand recently taking delivery of its first Airbus A320 fitted with wingtip devices known as sharklets.
The carrier has nine sharklet-equipped A320s remaining on order, which are scheduled to be delivered through September 2015. These are part of an order for 14 A320s placed by Air New Zealand in 2009 for its domestic fleet. The first four have already been delivered without sharklets.
These aircraft are replacing Boeing 737-300s, which are currently used on domestic routes. There are 12 of these aircraft remaining in the fleet. Morgan notes that the 737s should retain some value, since they are among the last -300s to come off the production line.
Swapping the 737s for A320s will boost domestic capacity somewhat—the A320s are configured for 171 passengers versus 133 for the 737s.
Air New Zealand also already operates a separate fleet of 13 A320s configured for short-haul international flights, primarily to Australia. Morgan says the airline would be interested in retrofitting these aircraft with sharklets if Airbus decides to offer such an option. The international A320s are still relatively young—10 years or less—so are not near replacement.
The airline was the first customer to order the sharklet-equipped A320s. However, other airlines have received the aircraft before Air New Zealand. Airbus executives say more than 70 A320s have been delivered with sharklets, to 23 airlines.
As well as increasing fuel efficiency, the sharklets provide many benefits, says Morgan. They provide more lift, which can often increase payload. Aircraft also climb more quickly, helping to reduce airport noise. The latest A320 delivery is also the first in Air New Zealand's fleet to have a head-up display for the pilot.