After grounding the fleet during the COVID-19 outbreak, Air New Zealand is resuming service with one of its Boeing 777-300ER planes.
The B777-300ER is the largest aircraft in the fleet of New Zealand’s national carrier. According to Cirium statistics, the airline has seven of the planes in storage.
The plane in issue registered ZK-OKQ and painted in the All Blacks livery, had been dormant for nearly 600 days until taking a two-hour test flight from Auckland Airport (AKL) on February 8, 2022, according to the airport’s social media account.
The plane will make its maiden planned journey to Melbourne, Australia (MEL) on February 10, 2022, according to FlightRadar 24.
After nearly 600 days in hibernation, @FlyAirNZ's largest aircraft, the B777-300ER took off for a test flight today, and will return to service on international routes later this week. ZK-OKQ will initially fly between NZ, Australia, and Los Angeles ✈️😀
📸 IG/rashmi777 pic.twitter.com/lq1HLGA5ze
— Auckland Airport (@AKL_Airport) February 8, 2022
Air New Zealand retired it’s eight 777-200s permanently in 2020, and announced in August 2021 that the larger 777-300s would be phased out this decade in favor of the 787 Dreamliner.
According to local media, the plane will fly cargo-only between New Zealand, Australia, and Los Angeles, shipping New Zealand food goods throughout the world, and the airline will put more B777-300ER planes back into service as demand allows.
“It’s a positive sign there is light at the end of the tunnel, and while it’s only flying cargo to begin with, we are hopeful that as the border restrictions continue to ease, we will be welcoming customers back on board soon,” Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan was quoted as saying by the NZ Herald.
“Our cargo business is right in the middle of its busiest season with New Zealand products in high demand around the globe so this extra 40 tonnes of belly space is a much-needed boost for New Zealand exporters,” Morgan added.
During the pandemic, New Zealand closed its borders to prevent the virus from spreading, severely limiting Air New Zealand’s operations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden revealed a five-stage plan to open borders on February 3, 2022, with the first step permitting Kiwis to return from Australia on February 28, 2022.
On February 4, 2022, Air New Zealand announced that the first flights between Australia and New Zealand were nearly sold out for the first day of travel.