Arguably one of the most recognizable aircraft in the Air New Zealand fleet, its “All Black” Boeing 777-200, is heading to the California desert. The 13-year-old plane, registration number ZK-OKH, will be departing Auckland tonight for possibly the last time.
Due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown and decline in people flying, Air New Zealand decided to ground its entire Boeing triple seven fleet. When deciding to ground most of its Boeing 777-300 aircraft back in May, Air New Zealand said they would not fly again until the end of the year. At the same time, the airline also noted that it was unlikely to fly its eight Boeing 777-200s again and was preparing the aircraft for long term storage.
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Victorville is in the Mojave Desert
Since making the announcement, two Air New Zealand 777-200s have been spotted at Victorville Airport (VCV) in the Mojave Desert. Tonight’s flight of ZK-OKH will take that number up to three. Along with the Boeing 777-200s, Air New Zealand is sending four of its Boeing 777-300s to the desert for storage while keeping three in Auckland to return to service quickly if needed.
The Victorville location was chosen because of its arid conditions and existing aircraft storage facilities. By storing the planes in the California desert, they can be made airworthy again in around six to eight weeks.
The 777s could be grounded till late 2021
When speaking to the New Zealand Herald newspaper about the planes going into storage last week, Air New Zealand chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said that the airlines’ recovery would take longer than was first thought.
“The recent resurgence of cases in New Zealand is a reminder that this is a highly volatile situation. We are not anticipating a return to any 777 flying until September 2021 at the earliest, which is why we have made the decision to ground the fleet until at least this time next year,” she said.
In the meantime, any long-haul international routes that the airline needs to fly can be done using one of its 14 more fuel-efficient Boeing 787-900 Dreamliners.
Regarding ZK-OKH, it was a planespotters favorite with its “All Black” livery. It was a reminder of home for Kiwis abroad when they saw it at the airport.
It is not just Air New Zealand
The current downturn in travel brought on by the coronavirus has forced other airlines to bring forward aircraft retirement. For example, Qantas has retired all of its Boeing 747s and sent its fleet of Airbus A380s to the desert for long-term storage. With it being cheaper to park an aircraft at a storage facility rather than just leaving it at the airport, airlines are scrambling for parking places in Alice Springs, Victorville, Roswell, and Teruel in Spain.
Do you think that ZK-OKH will ever return to service with Air New Zealand, or will it be sold on to another airline? Please let us know what you think in the comments.