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Boeing 787 Dreamliner to visit Auckland 12-14 November

The Boeing 787's impending South Pacific sojourn continues with Air New Zealand announcing the aircraft will visit Auckland on 12-14 November. It will be the aircraft's first visit to New Zealand. Boeing last week confirmed the aircraft will be in Australia from 15-16 November to coincide with Qantas' 91st anniversary on 15-Nov-2011, which will also be the first time the aircraft visits Australia.

While the B787 that will fly non-stop from Boeing's facility north of Seattle to Auckland – 11285 km – will be a -8 variant, the only version currently in production, Air New Zealand has signed up only for the longer-range and higher-capacity -9, for which it is the launch customer for with an order of eight to be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 powerplants.

So far only Auckland visit in NZ

“We’re looking forward to seeing the 787 in our skies for the first time," Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe says, noting the visit is subject to confirmation.

Air New Zealand says it will host the Boeing 787-8 test aircraft at its engineering base at Auckland Airport for two days. "Exact timings of the 787’s arrival on Saturday 12 November non-stop from Seattle will be confirmed in the coming weeks, but will be timed to give Aucklanders the best chance of seeing the aircraft as it flies into Auckland," the carrier says in a statement. The aircraft at this point is not expected to visit other New Zealand cities.

At a press conference in Auckland on 19-Oct-2011 Mr Fyfe half-jokingly responded to a question about the impending visit, saying the 787's appearance does not count towards compensation from Boeing for delivery delays. Air New Zealand's compensation package is confidential.

787 delays a bigger threat than fuel: Fyfe

The exact delivery of the 787-9 has caused a stir in the past few months between Air New Zealand and Boeing. Boeing maintains it expects to deliver the first 787-9 to Air New Zealand in late 2013, but Air New Zealand said, and then partially retracted, that it does not expect to receive the first example until 2014. The carrier's official stance is that it will place the aircraft into service in 2014, but it will not be surprised by any further delays.

While Mr Fyfe is rightfully jubilant about the 787's visit, he has not been one to mince words over programme delays that have seen delivery be pushed back repeatedly from the type's original late 2010 delivery date. When Mr Fyfe asked at the carriers annual results briefing in Aug-2011 about the delay and another matter, Fyfe quipped he would respond to the other question first so he could ponder his response about the 787.

Mr Fyfe had sharper words in an interview with IATA, telling the airline representative body the 787 was a greater concern than rising fuel prices. "The 787 delay is having an enormous impact on us. For me, it is a far greater concern than the oil price. High oil prices have an effect on every carrier and we’re all used to dealing with them. Plus, you can look up the price at any time and make arrangements accordingly."

Air New Zealand's first routes with 787 likely to be in Asia, but South America lures

Air New Zealand CFO Rob McDonald remarked in Jul-2011 that the carrier 787-9 will likely initially deploy the 787 from Auckland to Asia, and in particular China and Japan. But South America is on Air New Zealand's horizon, although the market is proving challenging for the carrier.

Under the 787's original specifications, reaching Brazil's Sao Paulo non-stop from New Zealand would have been very tight. With additional weight now expected to be on the aircraft, as well as performance shortfalls, Mr Fyfe said in Singapore earlier this month the 787-9 can no longer fly non-stop, or at least not without payload restrictions that make the route non-viable. The carrier is evaluating a stopover in Tahiti en route to Sau Paulo.

While Mr Fyfe says the Boeing 777-200LR could make the Sao Paulo route non-stop from Auckland, the lack of premium traffic on a predominantly lesiure sector rules out using the 777-200LR, which Air New Zealand would have to place an order for.

Other destinations of interest in South America to Air New Zealand are Buenos Aires or Santiago: two destinations that resonate with competitor Qantas, who from next year will drop Buenos Aires services in favour of Santiago. Qantas had expected codeshare opportunities with LAN Argentina that did not eventuate – even with government interference. The Chilean economy has now outpaced Argentina's. Qantas is expecting to codeshare with oneworld partner LAN out of its Santiago hub.

Read more: Qantas plans for new Santiago route (last third section of article)

But South American aviation remains in play, with the merged LAN-TAM yet to decide if their alliance membership going forward will be to LAN's oneworld or TAM's Star Alliance, although oneworld is the likely partner, an increasingly evident truth that now seems to be recognised by Air New Zealand. Mr Fyfe was less upbeat about the South American market than he was when announcing his interest there in an address in Sydney to the National Aviation Press Club in Sep-2010, before LAN and TAM announced their intention to merge.

Read more: oneworld favoured with more at stake than Star in LAN-TAM alliance decision

LAN-TAM committing themselves to oneworld would leave Air New Zealand without a major Star Alliance partner in the region of South America it is evaluating services to. Avianca-TACA will be a Star Alliance option, but their hubs are significantly north of the points Air New Zealand is evaluating. Mr Fyfe said the carrier would not serve South America without a partner at the South American end.

While Air New Zealand had also pondered the potential of New Zealand becoming a hub for flights between Asia and South America, instead of routing through Europe or the Middle East, Mr Fyfe says this prospect is dwindling as the market increases in competition, notably from network carriers in the Middle East.

Visit will be from test aircraft

Boeing has yet to confirm which of its test models will journey to New Zealand and Australia, but last week Boeing re-painted its third prototype, ZA003, from a basic white livery to the full Dreamliner livery on ZA001, the aircraft that Boeing first rolled out and which flew the type's maiden flight. "ZA003, the third 787 Dreamliner built by Boeing, just got a new paint job," Boeing said on Flickr. "We’ve got big plans for this airplane. It’s too early to provide details, but stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks."

Air New Zealand and Boeing confirmed the 787 Boeing will bring down will be a test aircraft with test equipment onboard. “We are thrilled to be able to bring this test plane down here for Air New Zealand. While the interior is filled with test equipment and therefore far from showroom standard, the exterior is not only aerodynamically efficient but extremely beautiful and people will be able to see just how different it looks,” Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager for the 787 program at Boeing Commercial Airplanes said.

While the 787 is due to wear branding elements of the Qantas and Jetstar livery, no details have been released yet about any livery markings for Air New Zealand.

After visiting New Zealand the B787 will then cross the Tasman Sea for a visit to Australia and Qantas, who has 50 aircraft of both -8 and -9 variants, on order.

Read more: Boeing confirms 787 to visit Australia on 15/16-Nov-2011