Air New Zealand has this week rolled out significant changes to its domestic schedules on main trunk Auckland-Christchurch and Wellington-Christchurch routes over the coming winter months.
Widebody Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and Boeing 777-200ER aircraft are being deployed on the Auckland-Christchurch route to free up Airbus A320 aircraft. On the Wellington-Christchurch route additional Airbus A320 services are operating to free up ATR72-600 aircraft.
New Air New Zealand schedules show up to 7x weekly NZ597/NZ594 return services operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with the service occasionally being substituted with a Boeing 777-200ER service operating as NZ596/NZ597. These services replace existing Airbus A320 services up until the 27th October 2018.
To avoid dumping additional capacity on the route these changes have also resulted in an additional existing A320 service being pulled from the route reducing the overall frequency of Auckland-Christchurch flights.
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flights are using the lower density code 2 configuration aircraft with 27 Business Premier, 33 Premium Economy, and 215 Economy seats. On both Boeing 787-9 and Boeing 777-200ER flights Premium Economy seating is available for free for Air New Zealand premium customers (Koru, Airpoints Gold and Airpoints Elite). Business Premier seating is available to all customers for a $30 surcharge.
For the past couple of years the Wellington-Christchurch weekday route has been flown primarily by ATR72 aircraft, supplemented by peak time morning and evening Airbus A320 services. Current Air New Zealand schedules show up to seven weekday Airbus A320 services now operating on this route until the end of June, with the additional five Airbus A320 services replacing existing ATR72-600 services. This has allowed cancelling additional ATR72-600 services to avoid dumping additional capacity on the route. The net result is week day services dropping from it's peak of around 18-20 to around 13-14 one way services.
On weekends the route is typically served by around 12-14 one way services, typically using ATR72-600 aircraft and a single Airbus A320 flight. Schedules until the end of June show this being cut to between 6-8 one way services, with most services now being operated by Airbus A320 aircraft supplemented by the odd ATR72-600 and Bombardier Q300.
While many frequent flyers on this route (including myself) are not fans of the ATR72 aircraft and will welcome the move to the Airbus A320, the cutback in flight frequency will be a disappointment for many.
Air New Zealand has not publicly commented on the reasons for these changes, however speculation fueled by significant numbers of recent cancellations on Air New Zealand turboprop services, and the short notice cancellation of the Auckland-Kapiti service points to significant crewing issues across both Mt Cook and Air Nelson fleets. Freeing up ATR72-600 aircraft from the Wellington-Christchurch route will allow these aircraft to be deployed across other parts of the network.
Air NZ are also in the process of replacing its older ATR72-500 aircraft which are currently for sale and due to leave the Air New Zealand fleet over the coming year. Air New Zealand have twelve new ATR72-600 aircraft due for delivery over the next few years.