Air New Zealand plans to hit the overdrive button on its Hangar 22 seating project after it decides on its next generation of widebody aircraft around April next year.
The Kiwi carrier, which launched its longest ever route to Chicago on November 30, is looking at proposals from both Boeing and Airbus on the successor to its current fleet of Boeing 777-200s.
Airbus is pushing its Airbus A350 family while Boeing is putting up its 787 families and significantly redesigned Boeing 777X models. The airline has said it plans to replace its Boeing 777-200s from 2022-23.
It has eight 777-200s used on long-haul and trans-Tasman services. The aircraft have 312 seats, including 26 in business class, 40 in premium economy and 246 in economy.
“So we’re right in the middle of the RFP’s (request for proposal) right now and we’re getting a lot of information from both Airbus and Boeing,’’ AirNZ chief executive Christopher Luxon told AirlineRatings during the Chicago inaugural.
“There are lots of good options from both manufacturers and we hope certainly as we get into the first quarter of next year to be well down the road.
“We hope to make a decision around the April timeframe.”
Luxon said the airline would not have any clear indication yet of which way it might go with seating until the choice of aircraft was made.
AirNZ currently has a herringbone configuration which has aged well but is starting to lag the newer seats, such as Qatar’s Qsuite, in some areas.
Luxon said the airline had been bringing customers through to experience mock-up cabin spaces in an attempt to learn their thinking about space, storage and privacy.
“We’ve been running customers through a number of mock-ups that at this stage are quite primitive and quite conceptual but are giving them a feel about what they want to play back to us around that,’’ He said.
“And when we get (the aircraft) decision in April, we will then put the foot on the accelerator big time.”
“We’re already starting to work with seat manufacturers right now, so we’ll start to build out a series of four or five options and we’ll start to test those with customers.
The AirNZ boss said the airline expected to go through “hundreds and hundreds of customers” to understand what they wanted.
He said one of the challenges was to see how the airline could provide more space and storage.
“Equally we know that that herringbone is quite liked and we also know that the lie-flat bed is really loved deeply compared to other seats around the world on other airlines,’’ he said.
So it’s how we’ll work off those trade-offs and how much customization we need with the seats that we see and how much we’ll build it — adapt it versus adopt it will be the challenge.”
Hangar 22 has given the airline a good start on its testing and Luxon said the airline had gained an understanding of where It could go and how much privacy people may or may not want.
“New Zealanders tend to be highly social so they quite like some of those socialization aspects of the cabin, which is quite unusual in other cultures,’’ he said.
“So how far can we stretch those things? And where are we in the continuum on each of those aspects of comfort, space, sleep and food?’’ he said. “We are getting some good learnings but actually I think it will really take off once we get the decision through in April.”
Nor is the herringbone sacrosanct, with Luxon saying everything is up for grabs.
“We’re actually wanting to start with a blank piece of paper and completely rebuild the whole thing again,’’ he said, adding this included aspects such as whether passengers could dine at different times.
Air New Zealand’s previous test-bed pushed the boundaries in economy with its innovative Skycouch and a unique take on premium economy.
This means other airlines will be watching closely to see where the New Zealand carrier goes with its latest project.
Luxon said airlines were continuously improving their offerings but he believed many were still “doing a twist” on the standard offering and it wasn’t as innovative as it could be.
“At Air New Zealand we’ll make our own decision,’’ he said. “We won’t be swayed by what the industry wants or the standard is.”
Steve Creedy traveled to Chicago courtesy of Air New Zealand.