Air New Zealand has grounded its B777 fleet until at least September 2021 due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, said the carrier in a statement.

In May, the airline grounded the majority of its seven B777-300 aircraft until the end of 2020.

Four of Air New Zealand’s B777-300 aircraft will be stored in Victorville in the Californian desert, while the remaining three will stay in Auckland where they are able to be returned to service if required, says the national carrier.

The airline’s B777-200 aircraft will be sent to long-term storage facilities in both Roswell, New Mexico and Victorville, California starting from later this month.

“The North American locations were chosen for their arid conditions and existing storage facilities which will ensure aircraft are kept in a condition that will enable them to be returned to service within six to eight weeks if required,” said Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui says the recovery of the airline’s international network post-Covid-19 is now looking to be slower than initially thought.

“The recent resurgence of cases in New Zealand is a reminder that this is a highly volatile situation. We are not anticipating a return to any B777 flying until September 2021 at the earliest, which is why we have made the decision to ground the fleet until at least this time next year.”

The B777s are the largest aircraft in Air New Zealand’s fleet and have operated the majority of the airline’s long haul routes over the past 15 years. The airline’s international schedule will be operated by the B787 Dreamliner aircraft, along with A320s and A320/21neos for trans-Tasman and Pacific Island routes.

Last month, Air New Zealand reported its first annual loss in 18 years, revealing the financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the airline. The airline reported a loss of NZ$87 million (before taxes and other significant items) for the 2020 financial year, compared to earnings of $387 million in the prior year.

Air New Zealand posts first annual loss in 18 years