Hundreds of Air NZ pilots to be recalled as airline looks at possible return to service for grounded Boeing 777-300s

The airline is cautiously optimistic about an increase in travel demand in 2022.
The airline is cautiously optimistic about an increase in travel demand in 2022. Photo credit: Getty Images

Air New Zealand has begun the process of reinstating and retraining pilots who were stood down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement to Newshub, the airline's general manager pilots Craig Tolley said it has been getting ready for take-off since the Government announced the loosening of border requirements from mid-January.

"We've developed initial plans for training which we hope will mean we are in a position to start recalling pilots who were either made redundant or furloughed last year," Tolley said.

"We're in the early stages of this recall plan. We have started now because pilot training is a long, time-consuming process.  We have also given all of our pilots, including those who are furloughed or redundant, a very high-level indication of when opportunities for recall and career progression might arise."

Newshub understands some of the pilots returning to the airline for training operate the Boeing 777-300 aircraft, an aircraft type whose future at the airline was in doubt after Air NZ sent its 777-300 fleet to the desert for storage. However a source close to the 777 programme said the airline may return as many as all 12 of the long-haul fleet to service by the end of 2022.

"We've made this decision with an eye to the future as it allows us to maximise our cargo routes and match the availability of our flight simulators which are key to getting pilots' training back up to scratch before they're back in the air," Tolley said.

Tolley said while the potential recalling of pilots is good news, the airline is mindful of getting too ahead themselves. 

"There is a reasonable amount of uncertainty in international travel, particularly around entry requirements and the level of demand, so we'll be keeping a careful eye on developments," he said.

An internal airline email stated as many as 107 pilots would return to work by the end of next year, and a further 120 in 2023.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association president Andrew Ridling said he's stoked things have progressed to where they are.

"NZALPA has been working very closely with Air NZ to position ourselves to be able to rebuild the airline and the industry as we look at the controlled opening of New Zealand to the world," he said.

Despite the planned return of many of its pilots and some of its grounded fleet, the airline is yet to confirm the resumption of many of its routes, including the launch of its planned non-stop service to New York.