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Air NZ's fleet replacement programme 'will be rapid'

By Graeme Kennedy

Friday 1st August 2003

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Air New Zealand is counting down through its multimillion-dollar fleet replacement programme toward an early- October Auckland-Sydney flight which will change the face of the airline.

The service will be the first commercial operation with the carrier's new Airbus A320 twinjet, ending 21 years with an all-Boeing passenger jet fleet.

Air New Zealand has ordered 15 A320s and taken 10 options for the aircraft which will enter regular scheduled service on the Tasman in mid to late-October after flying some sectors earlier in the month.

The first aircraft, ZK-OJA, made its maiden flight from Airbus Toulouse plant to Hamburg for interior fit-out two weeks ago and will be officially handed over to Air New Zealand chief executive Ralph Norris in Toulouse on September 15.

The airline expects to have five in service by the end of the year with the others delivered monthly.

The new 146-seat jets will replace the carrier's three leased international 124-passenger 737-300s and older 767-200s used mainly on the Tasman and will be returned to their lessors.

The A320s are expected to be put into regional Pacific service once they are established on the Tasman.

The Airbus programme is being run by senior vice-president for operations and technical Craig Sinclair, who said Air New Zealand's introduction of a large fleet and new aircraft type was rapid even by world standards.

"We are making a big investment in taking pilots and engineers off the line to train for the new aircraft," Mr Sinclair said. "We are bringing in a lot more capacity than we are taking out and managing this as a single programme to take pilots from the 737s and 767s onto the A320.

"We need 170 pilots to operate the 15-aircraft fleet which will include Freedom Air. Almost all will come from the 737s and they will be replaced by pilots from our regionals Air Nelson, Eagle Air and Mount Cook and from overseas.

"The 767-200 crews will go either to the A320 or our wide-bodies. We are not recruiting any A320 crews from outside as we can achieve a more effective flow of training by doing it internally."

Flight training began in Toulouse in November for 18 former 737 instructors, of whom eight have been flying with Hong Kong A320 operator Dragonair. All will hold senior training and check captain positions with Air New Zealand.

The company also has 10 engineers in Toulouse training on line maintenance ­ as a new aircraft the A320 will not need heavy maintenance for some years ­ and has invested heavily in tooling and engineering equipment.

The aircraft is Air New Zealand's first with fly-by-wire flight controls, where surfaces are activated by electronic impulses rather than the traditional cables and rods.

"The programme began after the decision to go with Airbus," Mr Sinclair said." "The main reason was that the aircraft are 16% more efficient in available seat kilometre terms with more passengers and a fuel burn about 30% lower.

"Equipment choices such as avionics were relatively straight forward ­ we went for the International Aero Engines' V2500 due to the IAE partners' (Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce) willingness to commit to a joint venture on the engine's maintenance."

Pratt and Air New Zealand are 50-50 partners in the Christchurch Engine Centre which is a major maintenance and overhaul shop for the fast-disappearing P&W JT8 engine.

The new and separate $100 million venture, in which P&W has invested 90%, is designed to become a major regional V2500 centre.

"There are not many V2500s around yet but as part of the deal IAE has guaranteed us work for 10 years," Mr Sinclair said.

"They are easily transportable in aircraft holds and we will compete on pricing, turnround time and quality of work in the region from Honolulu to Hong Kong."

The existing centre will gear up for the CFM56 engine used on the 737 as JT8 work declines.

Mr Sinclair said that under the purchase arrangement with Airbus Air New Zealand could upgrade the A320 to the larger A321 while the 10 options allowed the carrier to increase the fleet as demand grew.

"While ground handling and line maintenance are straightforward, the key issue is getting pilots in position to fly the aircraft and with the experiences the guys have had they are very impressed by its handling and stability."

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