• Sun. May 14th, 2023

Air New Zealand brings last aircraft out of California’s Mojave Desert storage

An Air New Zealand plane has just spent the last 855 days locked up in a deserted ‘aircraft graveyard’ – and why was it dumped there?

The major airline, like many others including Qantas, stored aircraft in the California’s Mojave Desert throughout the Covid pandemic at a time when travel was halted.

All seven of Air New Zealand’s 777 aircraft were taken and put into deep storage with three stored in Auckland and the other four in the US ‘graveyard’.

The reason they sent the planes half way across the world is due to the warm and dry conditions in the desert near Victorville, a city in Victor Valley in the San Bernardino County.

The airline said the location was ideal to keep the aircraft in pristine condition.

But the time has finally come to bring home its last remaining aircraft, with the other three already in New Zealand.

The Boeing 777-300, with the registration OKM, will make its 10,000km journey from California to Auckland via Singapore before it gets ready to take off on its first commercial service on Saturday, May 13 to San Francisco.

Air New Zealand’s chief operations officer Alex Marren said the move was a sign the airline has bounced back after Covid and customer demand is higher than ever.

“Having all of our 777-300s back will help build more resilience and more seats into our international operation, meaning we can fly more customers to where they need to go – whether that’s San Francisco, Honolulu, Houston or Tahiti,” Ms Marren said.

But it hasn’t been an easy task getting aircraft out of storage.

“An incredible amount of work has gone into bringing these aircraft back,” she said.

“The reanimation of OKM alone has taken more than seven weeks and involved more than 1500 man-hours of work.”

So, what does it involve? A team of more than 100 to bring it back.

The process starts off with unwrapping the plane from its storage protection before it gets a good wash to get rid of the dust and grime accumulated in the desert.

“Then it goes through a thorough servicing and maintenance programme,” Ms Marren explained. “It’s a long and a complicated process and our engineering and maintenance team have done an amazing job getting the aircraft ready to fly again.”

As a final safety check, a pilot team spends a day running through checks and tests, similar to what’s done when getting a new aircraft from the factory.

It involves a team of more than 100 Air New Zealanders have been involved in bringing

OKM will undergo a short visit to the Auckland engineering and maintenance hangar before NZ8 takes off to San Francisco this weekend.

“We’re really excited to be bringing these aircraft back into our skies for years to come,” Ms Marren added.

Meanwhile, Qantas also recently pulled its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner out of the Victorville storage facility.

The aircraft, named Billabong, came out of hiding last week, making it the first new 787 to join the national carrier fleet since before the pandemic.

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