Historic Air New Zealand 'All Black' aircraft leaves Auckland for desert storage

It's probably one of the most recognisable aircraft in Air New Zealand's fleet and, for many, is synonymous with international travel. But on Wednesday night, Air NZ's 'All Black' Boeing 777-200 - registration ZK-OKH - departed Auckland for possibly the last time.

Its destination was a long-term aircraft storage facility in Victorville, California, where it's going as part of Air NZ's COVID-19 management plan

The airline has grounded its entire Boeing 777 fleet for at least a year. Four of its 777-300s are destined for Victoville's 'airplane graveyard', while three will remain in Auckland where they can be returned to service at short notice.  

It's estimated it takes around four months for an aircraft that's been in storage in the desert to be returned to an airworthy condition.

The 'All Black' aircraft joined Air NZ's fleet back in 2007. I was among dozens if not hundreds of plane spotters, VIPs and media there to watch it touch down in Aotearoa for the first time.

The first sign of home, the Koru at an overseas airport.
The first sign of home, the Koru at an overseas airport. Photo credit: Getty.

"Everyone associates the 777 with holidays and going to Europe. After the 747s left, it was our flagship aircraft," an Air NZ flight attendant told Newshub.

"It's so sad to see all this history leaving us. There are so many memories."

It could carry almost as many passengers as a 747, but with just two engines it was massively cheaper to operate. Twin-engine aircraft were most definitely the "future of travel".

With the iconic koru on its tail and our country's name written on its side, the aircraft was almost an ambassador for Aotearoa as it flew around the world.

The Boeing 777-200 was used on routes such as Auckland-Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Hong Kong. The eye-catching all black paint job made OKH a favourite with planespotters all over the world and is said to have made Kiwi travellers feel connected with their homeland when they saw it at airport terminal gates around the world.

While its departure on Wednesday happened under the cover of darkness and its take-off direction pointed away from the airport's primary lookout spot, you can be guaranteed fans of the aircraft, former flight attendants and plane spotters would have been there. Hopefully not to say 'goodbye', but rather 'see ya later'.

I know this because I was of them.