Air New Zealand is bringing its first storage jet back to an American desert, nearly 700 days since it was sent there due to the Covid-19 which is decimating international travel.
In 2020, the airline sent four of its largest planes – the 777-300ER – to a storage facility in Victorville, Calif., in the Mojave Desert. It was part of a larger grounding of its fleet of 777s.
Today, 696 days later, the national carrier announced it was ‘reviving’ the first of its desert-based jets – a process that takes around six to eight weeks before it’s ready for passengers.
Air New Zealand chief operating officer Alex Marren said the planes would be brought back earlier than planned.
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“No one could ever predict what would happen during the pandemic and now that demand has rebounded faster than expected, we knew it was time to bring those planes back from Victorville,” Marren said.
Marren explains that the process of getting a plane back starts with a “good wash” to get rid of desert dust and grime.
“Our engineering teams then remove the protective fairings and materials on the wheels, sensors and wings and undertake a thorough service and maintenance program to make these aircraft serviceable and ready to fly again.
“From servicing the landing gear wheels to checking the upholstery and the in-cabin in-flight entertainment system, a lot of work goes into these aircraft to ensure they are ready to welcome customers. on board.”
The first plane will depart the Mojave facility at the end of August, before spending the night in Los Angeles and then returning to Auckland.
It will undergo additional maintenance there before joining the fleet at the end of September.
The airline has just completed its busiest month since the start of the pandemic. In July, the airline restarted 14 routes, returning to around 60% of pre-pandemic international capacity.
The airline has been busy bolstering its workforce, after downsizing at the worst of the pandemic.
Over 2,000 positions (a mix of hires and rehires) have been filled, including over 500 flight attendants and 150 pilots.
There are still more than 1000 vacancies to be filled.
“Bringing these planes into service means we’re rehiring more cabin crew, pilots and engineers to replenish our schedules, and it’s fantastic to see people returning to the business,” said Marren.
The airline also retained three 777-300s in Auckland, two of which have already returned to service.
The third should soon join the fleet.
The 777-300ER is the airline’s largest aircraft, with a capacity of 342 passengers.
The planes are often used on North American routes and occasionally through Tasmania.
The three remaining 777-300s at Victorville will be returned to New Zealand to join the fleet over the next year. The airline owns seven of the jets in total.
Air New Zealand has retired all of its smaller 777-200s during the pandemic.