What do we make of the Air New Zealand decision to quit the Auckland-Los Angeles-London route? Nothing much as it simply reflects the changing dynamics of the airline industry.
Gone are the days when Air NZ took the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 into the fleet and began flying Los Angeles, then the UK. Most New Zealanders heading offshore had London as their destination.
To circumvent awkward international air services agreements, Air NZ was obliged to code-share with British Airways on the route to London, which in those days meant Gatwick Airport.
Then Air NZ bought the Boeing 747-200 and Prime Minister Robert Muldoon over-rode strong Air NZ opposition to require the new 747s to be fitted with Rolls Royce RB211 engines.
His reason: NZ was in a critical phase of negotiations of the sheep and lamb trade into the UK and the European Union. The RB211 helped secure vital UK support. It also meant access to London Heathrow.
Muldoon won the support of UK PM Margaret Thatcher by over-turning the airline’s preferred General Electric CF6 engine for the then new Rolls-Royce RB211 turbo-fan. This wasn’t in Air NZ’s best commercial interests but it was entirely understandable in terms of NZ-UK/EU trade relations.
Few knew that the RB211 was in its early phases of development and would cost Air NZ dearly in terms of engine reliability and failures at awkward places. The airline added a pylon on the 747 to carry a spare engine at a considerable cost in performance in terms of fuel burn.
In one legendary – but true – event the company had two 747s on the ground in Tahiti. One was northbound to Los Angeles; the other was southbound from LA. Two 747s had to fly two engines to Tahiti, at vast cost.
Point of Order would be the last to decry the noble name of Rolls Royce but sadly there has been a repeat with the RR Trent engines fitted to Air NZ’s first batch of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. It’s hardly surprising the company went to General Electric for its latest 787 order.
The decision to fly non-stop into New York is a courageous decision which reflects the changing market, and how much the UK is declining as a market for Air NZ. The US is a major growing market, evidenced by the demand on services into Houston and Chicago – and the relative decline of LA since the high days of the late 1960s when Air NZ flew DC-8s via Fiji (sometimes) and Hawaii.
This week Qantas flew an experimental service between New York and Sydney in 19 hours. It says the 787-9 may need some tweaking to carry an economic load. Qantas and Boeing are working on this. Meanwhile Airbus has offered a refined A30-1000 twin-jet.
The planned service opens a new area for Air NZ in the vast and wealthy east coast of the US which far outweighs the elderly and declining UK market.
A sign of the Brexit times?