As Air New Zealand posted gloomy March operating statistics, showing deteriorating yields and declining traffic numbers, chief executive Rob Fyfe was talking up plans with staff about a revitalisation of the business.
According to a confidential internal memo obtained by BusinessDay and sent by Mr Fyfe to staff the same day, plans are afoot for new acquisitions, to revamp livery, including jazzing up the koru on the tail, scrap the widely criticised uniforms, introduce a new seat for aircraft and spend $35 million on staff training, development, marketing and communication.
A decision will also be made before the end of the year on what fleet Boeing or Airbus will replace the ageing Boeing 737-300 fleet on domestic routes.
While dozens of airlines have collapsed and many are parking up planes en masse trying to keep creditors from the door, Air New Zealand is getting on with business and laying the foundation to sprint past struggling competitors, Mr Fyfe said in the memo.
He said "the global doom and gloom had probably given us a convenient veil to keep some highly innovative endeavours below the radar and well away from the eyes and ears of competitors."
The most significant innovations will be revealed when launching the carrier's long-haul product on its Boeing 777-300ERs, which start arriving in late 2010.
He said an Air NZ team had designed and manufactured more than 20 prototype seat options for testing with customers in the world's only full-scale Boeing 787-9 interior mockup near Seattle.
"We are now in the process of finalising our favourites [seats] which will be true game changers," Mr Fyfe said. They will be retrofitted to the Boeing 777-200ERs.
"While the Koru will always remain the cornerstone feature of our aircraft, there is plenty of scope to use the fuselage to modernise the look of our fleet, which is a showcase for New Zealand overseas," he said of the new livery, expected to be unveiled with the arrival of the first 777-300ER
Later this year staff will be involved in testing fabrics and cuts of uniforms. "'It would be fair to say that the lessons from the development and introduction of the current uniform have been taken on board," said Mr Fyfe after widespread public and staff criticism.
Other initiatives included identifying new acquisitions complementary to the business, the launch of a new online tourism venture and new PR campaigns to encourage people to fly to New Zealand with the carrier.
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