There was another slice of aviation history made earlier today when an Air New Zealand Dreamliner flew the first-ever direct flight from Los Angeles to Wellington. Hitting town to keep working on the sequel to Avatar, Hollywood director James Cameron and his producer Jon Landau were among the 54 passengers aboard the flight.
Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 registration ZK-NZJ departed Los Angeles at 22:32 (local time) on Friday, May 29. The flight operated as NZ1946. The trip took 12 hours and 45 minutes to cover the 10,875 kilometers between the two cities, touching down at 06:18 (local time) on Sunday morning.
Just one of many interesting flights into New Zealand lately
Besides having an interesting planeload of passengers, the flight was also one of many one-off routes airlines have flown into New Zealand over the past few months. While New Zealand usually gets plenty of services from North America, the focus is mostly on Auckland (both United Airlines and Air New Zealand fly the Los Angeles – Auckland sector).
Sleepy Christchurch was also due to get some love from American Airlines with seasonal services from Los Angeles slated to begin in October. That’s unlikely to happen then unless circumstances improve. Still, until now, Wellington has never been on the radar for services from North America.
Using a loophole to get into the country
With New Zealand shutting its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents, it took a bit of wriggle work for the weekend’s flight to happen. Still trading off the back of The Lord of the Rings movies, the country has carved out a small but valuable niche as a location for some big-budget movies. The Avatar sequel is worth big money to New Zealand’s embattled economy.
And lo, it turns out there is a border entry exemption for foreigners considered essential to projects of “significant economic value.” In granting the exemptions, the New Zealand Government said filming the movie would pump money into local economies and employ thousands of New Zealanders.
To date, about 2,200 non-Kiwis have been allowed into New Zealand since travel restrictions were imposed. Only a small percentage of these exemptions have been granted for workers coming in to contribute to projects of significant economic value, and 56 of those allowed were working in the film industry.
Aviation in New Zealand slowly waking up
The unusual flight raised some eyebrows around New Zealand. The country has done well dealing with COVID-19, and allowing in a planeload of passengers, high value or not, from a hotspot is not universally popular. But New Zealand is slowly easing back restrictions.
Domestic travel is slowly resuming, and there are signs of life at airports around the country. For example, Air New Zealand’s Koru lounges have re-opened, and we are seeing an uptick in flights.
There is also a strong possibility flights will resume between New Zealand and Australia around July 1. This comes on top of Air New Zealand keeping some international services going to selected destinations in Asia, Australia, and North America.
Back in Wellington, James Cameron won’t be cruising Wellington’s coffee strips for the time being. All the passengers on Sunday’s flight have gone into a two-week quarantine. They are staying at the swanky QT Hotel so that shouldn’t be too difficult for them.