Air New Zealand is bringing one of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft back into service, after grounding the fleet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The B777-300ER is the largest aircraft in the New Zealand flag carrier’s fleet. The airline has seven of the jets in storage, according to data from Cirium.
The aircraft in question, registered ZK-OKQ and painted in the All Blacks livery, has been in hibernation for nearly 600 days and performed a two-hour test flight from Auckland Airport (AKL) on February 8, 2022, the airport said on social media.
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— Auckland Airport (@AKL_Airport) February 8, 2022
According to FlightRadar 24, the plane will operate its first scheduled flight to Melbourne, Australia (MEL), on February 10, 2022.
Air New Zealand permanently retired its eight 777-200s in 2020 and said in August 2021 that the larger 777-300 aircraft will eventually be phased out this decade by the 787 Dreamliner.
Local media reported the aircraft will perform cargo-only flights between New Zealand, Australia and Los Angeles, exporting NZ food products to the world, and that the airline will bring further B777-300ER aircraft back into service when 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.
New Zealand has closed borders during the pandemic to control the spread of the virus, curbing Air New Zealand’s operations drastically.
On February 3, 2022, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced a five-step plan to open borders, starting with allowing Kiwis to return from Australia on February 28, 2022. Air New Zealand said on February 4, 2022 that the first flights between Australia and New Zealand for the first day of travel were almost sold out.