What Happened To Air New Zealand’s Boeing 747-400s?

Owing to its distant location, long-haul planes are crucial to New Zealand’s aviation sector. Presently, the country’s flag carrier airline, Air New Zealand, operates aircraft from Boeing’s 777 and 787 ‘Dreamliner’ families for this purpose. However, a little further back in time, the Boeing 747-400 was also key in connecting the country to regions such as North America and Europe. Let’s look at Air New Zealand’s relationship with the 747-400.

Air New Zealand Boeing 747 Getty
Air New Zealand flew eight Boeing 747-400s between 1989 and 2014. Photo: Getty Images

The first arrival

According to data from ch-aviation.com, Air New Zealand operated a total of eight 747-400s. The -400 was the most popular variant of Boeing’s ‘Queen of the skies,’ and was one of two 747 variants launched in the 1980s. Airlines preferred it to the -300 as its glass cockpit only required two crew members. It also boasted winglets and an increased range.

The first 747-400 to join Air New Zealand arrived in December 1989. It bore the registration ZK-NBS, and the name Bay of Islands. While this was Air New Zealand’s first 747-400, it also operated seven examples of the older -200, according to Planespotters.net. These were present at the airline from 1981 to 2000, and five went on to fly for Virgin Atlantic.

Air New Zealand Boeing 747 Getty
The -400 was actually the second 747 variant that Air New Zealand operated. Photo: Getty Images

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The rest of the 1990s

1989 marked the start of what would become a 25-year relationship between Air New Zealand and the Boeing 747-400. The remaining seven examples of the aircraft that the carrier operated arrived throughout the 1990s, in the following years.

  • 1990 – ZK-NBT Kaikoura.
  • 1992 – ZB-NKU Rotorua.
  • 1994 – ZB-SUH Dunedin.
  • 1995 – ZK-SUI Queenstown.
  • 1998 – ZK-SUJ Auckland and ZK-NBV Christchurch.
  • 1999 – ZK-NBW Wellington.
Varig Boeing 747-400
Air New Zealand picked up two second-hand 747-400s from Brazil’s Varig. Photo: Torsten Maiwald via Wikimedia Commons

Of the eight aircraft, Air New Zealand received six of them brand-new from the factory. It picked up the other two second hand from Brazilian carrier Varig (ZK-SUH and ZK-SUI). That being said, although the planes were second-hand, they came to Air New Zealand aged just three-and-a-half and two years old respectively. Now let’s examine their fates.

21st-century retirements

The Boeing 747-400 became an iconic aircraft at Air New Zealand, operating flagship routes such as Auckland-Los Angeles-London Heathrow. However, after the turn of the century, the airline’s eight 747-400s slowly but surely began to leave the carrier. The iconic planes departed across a five-year spell that spanned from 2009 to 2014.

Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400
Air New Zealand’s 747-400s wore several liveries during their tenure. Photo: Dean Morley via Flickr

Sadly, four of the eight aircraft were scrapped after leaving the airline, in Roswell, Victorville (one each), and Goodyear (two aircraft). However, the other four went on to live more varied lives after their time at Air New Zealand. For example, ZK-SUI flew for Air Atlanta Icelandic and Saudi Arabian Airlines before being scrapped in Goodyear in 2015.

Meanwhile, ZK-SUJ also joined Air Atlanta Icelandic, and now flies cargo for Magma Aviation following a conversion in 2011. ZK-NBW was the subject of a similar conversion in 2012, and is now in storage, having previously flown for Asiana Airlines. Most interestingly, ZK-NBV has been the subject of a preservation attempt by enthusiasts wanting to turn it into a hotel. After Air New Zealand, it has flown for Wamos Air, Saudi Arabian, and Garuda.

Do you miss seeing the Boeing 747 in Air New Zealand’s livery? What are your memories of flying on the ‘Queen of the skies’ with the airline? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.