Air New Zealand, in a major overhaul of its regional operations, plans to retire its 19-seat fleet and bring in additional larger turboprops.
The airline will phase out its 17 Beechcraft 1900Ds by August 2016. Air New Zealand has converted options for four more 68-seat ATR 72-600s, boosting its orders to nine. It already operates four ATR 72-600s and 11 -500s, with 23 50-seat Bombardier Q300s also in its regional turboprop fleet.
The 1900Ds are used on flights to small regional centers, but Air New Zealand says the fleet has been unprofitable for some time. The carrier launched a review of its regional operations and determined that it made more sense to replace the 19-seaters with additional ATR capacity.
As the nine ATRs arrive, they will be used to upgauge some Q300 routes. In turn, Q300s will take over most of the 1900D routes as the 19-seaters exit the fleet. However, not all of the 1900D routes have enough demand to justify a Q300, so seven of the 20 routes will be suspended. This will mean that three smaller cities –- Kaitaia, Westport and Whakatane -– will lose service altogether. However, other cities will see capacity gains thanks to the upgauging.
Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon tells Aviation Week the review was undertaken to consider how to “ensure the regional services remain viable in the future.” Changes to the regional fare structure have also been made.
Luxon notes that the ATRs “work very well” in the carrier’s regional network, as they offer greater economies of scale and lower costs per seat than the 1900Ds. The larger turboprops are also well-suited because New Zealand’s longest regional sectors are still relatively short. For this reason, the airline would not consider regional jets for these routes.
The carrier will be taking delivery of a new ATR about every few months, with all arriving by August 2016. The 1900Ds will generally exit in ones and twos as the ATRs arrive. Luxon does not expect difficulties in finding buyers for the 19-seaters, as they have been well-maintained and the carrier has some of the last aircraft to come off the production line. Average age of this fleet is 12.7 years.
The 1900Ds are being retired because of network economics rather than their age, Luxon says. However, if Air New Zealand had decided to keep them, it would have eventually faced a replacement problem since there are few similar alternatives being produced.
Air New Zealand’s fleet moves mean the demise of wholly owned subsidiary Eagle Airways, which operated the 1900Ds. The carrier has indicated that most of the Eagle workers will be accommodated elsewhere in the business.