Kiwi plane spotters were excited to see an unusual arrival in Christchurch this week. An Airbus A340 in South African Airways colors touched down at the airport just after 11:45 yesterday morning (local time). The Airbus was conduction a repatriation flight, bringing 300 New Zealanders home.
SAA touches down in New Zealand
South African Airways has always had a fairly extensive flight network. Before it entered special administration and then had its international flights pulled from its schedules due to the COVID crisis, the airline flew all over the world. Some of its farthest destinations included Australia, China, Argentina, and, of course, the United States. But one place it never found its way to was New Zealand.
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That was, until this week. On Monday morning, at 13:02 local time, ZS-SND, a 16-year-old Airbus A340-600, took off from Johannesburg airport for a long trip across the southern Indian Ocean. Flying under flight number SA2984, the aircraft was carrying around 300 kiwi passengers, eager to get home, having been stranded for many weeks.
After more than 12 and a half hours of flying, on a route that took them within spitting distance of Antarctica, the passengers were relieved to be on final approach to Christchurch airport. The flight touched down at 11:45 local time, marking the first time a South African Airways aircraft has been on New Zealand soil.
Another first for Christchurch Airport! Today we welcome to the South Island our first aircraft from @flysaa. Welcome home to the 300 Kiwi passengers returning from Johannesburg. pic.twitter.com/4eg8npXzIr
— Christchurch Airport (@CHC_Airport) September 8, 2020
The 300 passengers will now be required to enter 14 days of managed isolation before they can go home to their families. The A340 will fly back to South Africa on Thursday. It’s not clear at this time whether there will be South Africans flying back onboard.
New Zealand is getting somewhat used to having some unusual guests at its airports, as the COVID crisis prompts a variety of carriers to work to repatriate stranded nationals. In April, Christchurch airport welcomed two Lufthansa aircraft, Boeing 747s no less.
— Christchurch Airport (@CHC_Airport) April 6, 2020
The repatriation effort also involved homegrown airline Air New Zealand, as the carriers worked together to get some 12,000 Germans back to their home country. Austrian Airlines got in on the action too, making for another unusual visitor to the airport.
See you later New Zealand! Our crew is on the way home now together with 300 repatriates (click the link below to follow the flight). It was an honor to be your guest and enjoy your great hospitality! Again many thanks for the pics @CHC_Airport! 🇳🇿❤️🇦🇹
— Austrian Airlines (@_austrian) April 9, 2020
Qatar Airways rocked up in April too, making a long trip from Doha to Christchurch to repatriate French nationals back to Paris. On route, it stopped in Perth to pick up some more stranded nationals and had a technical stop in Doha before arriving into France.
First-time visitor @qatarairways arrived yesterday, making one of the world’s longest flights to get here direct from Doha. The flight is a charter to repatriate French nationals – from here to Perth to board a few more passengers, then Doha and on to Paris. pic.twitter.com/ys0EV98CLz
— Christchurch Airport (@CHC_Airport) April 15, 2020
For South African, ZS-SND is one of the few aircraft left in operation for the airline. The entire fleet is currently stored, apart from one A320 and this A340. The A350s have been returned to Air Mauritius and the leasing company, and while the A340s were put up for sale earlier this year, none have yet left South Africa.
With the SAA fleet significantly shrunk and its future still very uncertain, it remains to be seen whether this A340 will fly again for SAA.