Travel boost: Air New Zealand brings back another Boeing 777-300 as demand soars

by James Wilkinson

Air New Zealand’s last remaining Boeing 777-300 that was stored in the Mojave Desert during the pandemic making its journey home and is set to be welcomed back to Auckland tomorrow (May 10) after more than 855 days in storage.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and aircraft around the world were grounded, all seven of the airline’s 777-300 aircraft were taken and put into deep storage.

Three were stored in Auckland, while the remaining four were stored in the desert near Victorville, USA, as the “warm and dry conditions were ideal to keep the aircraft in pristine condition”, according to Air New Zealand’s Chief Operations Officer Alex Marren.

Now the aircraft, registration ZK-OKM, is making the more than 10,000km journey from Victorville to Auckland via Singapore, before it gets ready to take off on its first commercial service on May 13 to San Francisco.

Marren said the return of all seven of aircraft signals the airline has bounced back after Covid and customer demand is higher than ever.

“Having all of our 777-300s back will help build more resilience and more seats into our international operation, meaning we can fly more customers to where they need to go – whether that’s San Francisco, Honolulu, Houston or Tahiti,” she said.

“An incredible amount of work has gone into bringing these aircraft back. The reanimation of OKM alone has taken more than seven weeks and involved more than 1500 manhours of work.”

A team of Air New Zealand engineers have been in Victorville working with a local maintenance provider to reanimate the aircraft.

“The process starts off with unwrapping the plane from its storage protection and then it gets a good wash, getting rid of the dust and grime that has accumulated in the desert,” he said.

“Then it goes through a thorough servicing and maintenance programme.

“It’s a long and a complicated process and our engineering and maintenance team have done an amazing job getting the aircraft ready to fly again,” Marren said.

As a final safety check, a pilot team spend a day running through checks and tests, similar to what’s done when getting a new aircraft from the factory.

“Overall a team of more 100 Air New Zealanders have been involved in bringing back these 777 aircrafts in some way,” she said.

OKM will undergo a short visit to the Auckland engineering and maintenance hangar before NZ8 takes off to San Francisco this weekend.

“We’re really excited to be bringing these aircraft back into our skies for years to come,” Marren said.