Air New Zealand will launch its Covid-delayed ultra-long-haul nonstop to New York this September, putting to bed skepticism that 14-hour-plus flights could be casualties of the pandemic.
The Star Alliance carrier will begin nonstop flights between Auckland and New York Kennedy on a thrice-weekly basis with a Boeing 787-9 on September 17. The route was originally expected to launch in October 2020 but postponed in March 2020 at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it begins, the route — at more than 16 hours northbound and over 17 hours southbound — will be the longest Air New Zealand flies.
“The U.S. has always been a key market for us,” said Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. “In the six years leading up to Covid, the U.S. visitor numbers to New Zealand doubled so we expect our much-awaited non-stop service to be incredibly strong year-round.”
Air New Zealand’s ultra long-haul debut was not without its doubters. Early in the pandemic, as airlines pulled down their networks and traveler numbers dwindled, many forecast a resurgence of hubs, particularly to break up longer trips that may have been flown nonstop previously.
“Airlines will need to consolidate passenger flows through a hub to make sure those flights are cash positive and, in time, profitable,” then IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said in November 2020.
Fast forward nearly a year-and-a-half, and airlines are forecasting strong demand for travel this summer. This is especially true for markets that have reopened even with the war in Ukraine and spike in energy prices, and airlines are resuming many of the international routes they suspended. This even applies to ultra long-hauls — routes broadly defined as more than 14 hours — that bypassed traditional hubs. Singapore Airlines resumed nonstop service to JFK in late 2020, United Airlines has added new nonstops to India and South Africa from the U.S., and Qantas Airways has restarted its “Project Sunrise” that will see it launch nonstops from Sydney to London and New York in 2025.
“Our latest customer research shows the demand for direct long-haul flights is even stronger than it was pre-Covid,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said on the airline’s Project Sunrise plans in February. The carrier has resumed talks with Airbus over an order for the A350-1000 to operate the long-haul flights.
One hitch in the return of ultra long-haul flights is the near blanket closure in Russian airspace. The closure has prompted both the cancellation of some routes and the creation of others as airlines have routed around Russia’s massive 11-timezone span. United suspended its Newark and Mumbai, and San Francisco and Delhi flights due to the lack of an economic alternative to overflying Russia. Whereas Finnair, whose home base Helsinki sits less than 100 miles (160 km) from the Russian border, was forced to add at least three hours to its Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo routes with detours putting them on the cusp of ultra long-haul status.
The airspace closures, however, do not affect airlines like Air New Zealand or Qantas that are launching or resuming long international flights to and from the Southern Hemisphere.
Like its competitors, Air New Zealand is likely see strong demand for its international passenger fights as they resume. The airline was forced to suspend much of its long-haul network — save for cargo flights subsidized under the New Zealand government’s Maintaining International Air Connectivity (MIAC) subsidy program — and will only begin resuming passenger services when the country drops most entry restrictions on May 2 after nearly two years.
The airline will double its long-haul schedule from March to May, including resuming frequencies to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Singapore, Cirium schedule data show. Air New Zealand will return to Houston Bush Intercontinental and Honolulu in July. All of the destinations seeing flights return are key hubs for partners Singapore Airlines and United with the exception of Honolulu. Last November, Foran said these markets would be among the first to see service resume.
Industry capacity between the U.S. and Australia and New Zealand remains well below pre-pandemic levels. In the third quarter — after New Zealand reopens — airlines are scheduled to fly nearly 44 percent less capacity in the market than they did in 2019, Cirium shows. American Airlines has suspended Australia flights due to delays to its new 787 deliveries, and Virgin Australia axed its long-haul network as part of its restructuring.
Air New Zealand will operate from Terminal 1 at JFK.