DALLAS – Great news came from the Southern Pacific, as flag carrier Air New Zealand (NZ) is bringing home the last aircraft out of long-term storage in the US desert. The move signals a significant step towards resuming entire operations after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The national Kiwi carrier achieved revenue of NZ$2.734m (US$1.7m) in 2022. While, unfortunately, the airline is still operating at a loss today, the clear signs of passenger and cargo demand recuperation have impulsed NZ to reintroduce all their stored airplanes back to commercial service as of May 2023.
The last jet coming back is a Boeing 777-300ER (ZK-OKM), the first delivered to NZ in December 2010. After the pandemic outbreak, the airframe retired from service in August 2020, being stored until November at the airline’s main hub in Auckland Airport (AKL).
However, as maintenance costs raised, the company decided to ferry the airplane to Victorville (VCV), California, one of the largest desert aircraft boneyards in the world.
The last time ZK-OKM made a commercial flight for Air New Zealand was in August 2020. Since then, the 777 has remained grounded and stored in AKL and VCV until April 2023. As the aircraft had not taken off for almost three years, NZ needed to undergo a series of tests and refreshment processes before returning to its base and starting to fly commercially.
The Comeback Flight to AKL
On April 1, 2023, ZK-OKM flew a short 45-minute ferry flight from VCV to Los Angeles (LAX) as NZ6007. This is because the airplane needed to pass all the necessary U.S. Customs checks at LAX before departing to its next destination, and the facilities required for securing the legal exit of the airplane were not sufficient at VCV.
Then, the Boeing 777 was ready to start its journey back home and headed to Singapore-Changi Airport (SIN) for a maintenance D Check procedure, which is very common and recommended after long-term storage. This check is the most intense and usually takes around 21 days to be completed depending on the type. It involves stripping the aircraft to its shell and rebuilding the interior of the plane.
The LAX-SIN flight takes about 16 hours to be completed, and an empty Boeing 777’s autonomy makes this direct journey possible. Still, due to safety reasons, and as the aircraft was grounded for a long time, NZ decided to make an 18-hour safety and refueling stop in Honolulu (HNL) before finally arriving in Singapore on April 2, 2023.
Now, after more than one month in Singapore, ZK-OKM is ready to finally fly back home to Auckland, and the long-awaited arrival is expected on May 10 at 20:05 local time as NZ6008.
Over 100 staff have been involved with the aircraft reactivation, which took seven weeks to complete.
Featured image: Air New Zealand (ZK-OKH) Boeing 777-219(ER). Photo: Luca Flores/Airways.