Normally flights to nowhere can cost a lot of money, but a group of passengers on an Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner on the weekend got an impromptu late-night 11-hour flight to nowhere after computer issues forced their plane to return to Auckland.
Midway to Seoul, the Air New Zealand Dreamliner turned around
A report in The Aviation Herald drew attention to the flight. Air New Zealand’s occasional service to Seoul, NZ075, pushed back from Auckland just after midnight (local time) on Saturday, March 20. The departure went smoothly, and the plane was over five hours into the flight when trouble struck the aircraft’s navigation computers.
The aircraft, ZK-NZI, had overflown the far eastern tip of Manus Island in the Bismark Sea when the decision was made to turn around and head back to Auckland Airport.
According to The Aviation Herald, there were issues with two of the three computers used for navigation.
After departure from Auckland, flight tracking data to around 36,000 feet and tracking in a northwesterly direction. In the early hours of the morning, the Boeing 787-9 overflew the Coral Sea before passing over New Britain. By this time, the aircraft had climbed to 40,000 feet.
Over five hours into the 11-hour flight, having just flown over Manus Island, the pilots turned the plane around for the long trek back to Auckland.
At this point, the flight was midway to Seoul, but the flight path was to take the Dreamliner far out into the Philippines Sea. By returning to Auckland, several airports capable of handling the Boeing remained within easy flying distance. Port Moresby, Noumea, Townsville, and Brisbane are some of the many airports scattered off to the side of the return flight path.
Not to forget, Air New Zealand’s home base is Auckland, and much of their maintenance facilities are there.
Air New Zealand keeps its fleet of 787-9 Dreamliners busy
For the 55 passengers onboard, it would have been a long night. They were back in Auckland when they should have been in Seoul. It might have been a flight to nowhere, but most would probably have preferred a flight to somewhere.
In normal times, Air New Zealand flies between Seoul and Auckland several times a week. In the new normal, it is scheduling just one passenger flight a month. And that once a month flight had just 55 passengers on it. Helping make the flight viable would have been a belly hold full of cargo.
Fortunately, Air New Zealand didn’t make its stranded passengers wait until April for the next flight. A substitute flight operated by ZK-NZK left Auckland on Sunday morning and touched down in Seoul that evening.
This is the first recorded incident involving ZK-NZI. The Boeing 787-9 joined the Air New Zealand fleet in July 2016 and has flown for the airline ever since. ZK-NZI, along with Air New Zealand’s 13 other Dreamliners, now make up the backbone of Air New Zealand’s international fleet. All of them are flying, operating scaled back passenger services around the Pacific rim. But underpinning their usefulness is a fairly full schedule of cargo flights.
ZK-NZI didn’t stay on the ground for long. The computer issues were quickly resolved. On Sunday afternoon, the plane headed down to Christchurch to pick up cargo before flying to Los Angeles. It has since returned, squeezed in a return trip to Tokyo Narita, and on Thursday is due to head back to Auckland from Perth.