While Air New Zealand is investing heavily in new aircraft, it is also focused on acquiring advanced avionics to gain maximum advantage from its fleet refresh. Some of these projects place it among industry leaders in terms of upgrades to jet and turboprop aircraft.
The most significant of the avionics moves is the airline’s decision to equip its ATR 72-600s to operate with a high level of required navigation performance authorization required (RNP AR). It is set to become the first carrier to use RNP AR with ATR aircraft at an accuracy of 0.3/0.3, which means flying within 0.3 nm of a navigation track on approach and the same on a missed approach or go-around.
RNP AR allows aircraft to fly designed approach paths with great precision, which is particularly useful at airports with difficult terrain and during poor visibility. ATR says it worked with Air New Zealand to develop this level of RNP AR capability, although more carriers are also interested in the upgrade. Other airlines—including Avianca—have already installed a less advanced level of RNP AR on their ATR aircraft, operating to an accuracy of 0.3/1.0.
Air New Zealand has 19 ATR 72-600s on order and 10 currently in its fleet. After certification and regulatory approval, the first of the deliveries with the more accurate RNP capability is due to arrive in 2018, the airline says. The other -600s will be retrofitted. Air New Zealand also operates 11 ATR 72-500s, but these will not receive the RNP upgrade, as they are due to be replaced by the -600s.
The carrier’s RNP investment for the ATRs is NZ$25 million ($16.5 million). “This technology will enable us to provide a more consistent service for customers who travel on our ATR aircraft where weather conditions can at times prove challenging for our turboprop operations, particularly over the winter months,” says David Morgan, the airline’s chief of flight operations.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand is also introducing avionics upgrades in its jet fleet. It has gained regulatory approval from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority to use Boeing’s Electronic Logbook (ELB) in its Boeing 787-9s. The carrier is one of only three 787 operators in the world to gain the necessary approval for this product, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region.
The ELB operates on the 787-9’s integrated electronic flight bag to collect flight data and any maintenance issues noted by the crew during flight. This information is then shared in real time with maintenance and engineering teams. The carrier expects to improve reliability through “a more data-driven predictive maintenance process.”
Advanced capabilities in Air New Zealand’s Airbus A320 fleet are expected to allow it to operate night flights on the mountainous approach to Queenstown, one of the country’s most popular tourism gateways. It is investing in Airbus runway overrun prevention systems for these aircraft, which will be part of the safety case for the Queenstown night flights that will need to be accepted by the regulator. This submission will also highlight head-up displays and RNP AR capability that are already in the A320s.
The carrier is confident the safety case will be accepted, as it has been working on the project for some time with the regulator, the airport, unions and other industry stakeholders. Queenstown Airport began a development project in November that will include runway upgrades and navigational lighting improvements.
Air New Zealand says the night flight approval will allow it to add 1 or 2 flights per day from Auckland to Queenstown beginning in July, giving it up to seven per day during winter months. This will improve same-day connections from international flights arriving in Auckland, the airline says.