The last Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft stored in the Mojave Desert during the pandemic is set to touch down in Auckland tomorrow May 10, after more than 855 days in storage.

When Covid hit in 2020 and aircraft around the world were grounded, all seven of the airline’s long-haul 777-300ER aircraft were taken and put into deep storage.

Three were stored in Auckland, while the remaining four were stored in the desert near Victorville, USA, as the warm and dry conditions were ideal to keep the aircraft in pristine condition.

Now the last of the four Mojave aircraft, registration NZ-OKM, is making the more than 10,000km journey from Victorville to Auckland via Singapore, before it gets ready to take off on its first commercial service on May 13 to San Francisco.

Air New Zealand’s Chief Operations Officer Alex Marren says the return of all seven aircraft signals 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,” she says.

“An incredible amount of work has gone into bringing these aircraft back. The reanimation of OKM alone has taken more than seven weeks and involved more than 1500 manhours of work.”

A team of Air NZ engineers have been in Victorville working with a local maintenance provider to reanimate the aircraft.

“The process starts off with unwrapping the plane from its storage protection and then it gets a good wash,getting rid of the dust and grime that has accumulated in the desert. Then it goes through a thorough servicing and maintenance programme. 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 spend a day running through checks and tests, similar to what’s done when getting a new aircraft from the factory.

“Overall a team of more 100 Air New Zealanders have been involved in bringing back these 777 aircrafts in some way.”

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.”

Air NZ also operates a current fleet of 14 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft on its longest and most premium regional routes. These will be joined by two additional –9 and six higher-capacity 787-10 long-haul aircraft in the coming years.