Air New Zealand will extend the grounding of its long-range Boeing 777 fleet "until at least September 2021" in the face of continued uncertainty over the return of demand for international travel.
In April 2020 the long-range jets were stood down until April 2021, with the Boeing 777-200s then potentially facing an earlier retirement as new Boeing 787-10s join the fleet – although delivery dates for the Dreamliners has also been pushed back.
However, the Kiwi carrier today confirmed that 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" says Air New Zealand Chief Operating Officer Carrie Hurihanganui.
"We are not anticipating a return to any 777 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."
While three of Air New Zealand's Boeing 777-300 aircraft will remain in the hangars at Auckland in case they're needed in the short term, four more will be stored in Victorville in the Californian desert, which has become the parking lot for hundreds of aircraft from around the world – including Qantas' flagship Airbus A380s, which aren't expected to be flying again until 2023.
The Boeing 777-200s "will be sent to long-term storage facilities in both Roswell, New Mexico and Victorville, California" from later this month, the airline said.
Hitting pause on new business class
The airline's necessary focus on short-term survival has also put the brakes on the airline's launch of all-new business class seats, slated for the Boeing 787-10 as well as a retrofit to some of the Boeing 777 fleet as a replacement for the current decade-old sleepers.
They're been under development since mid-2018 at a secret secure facility dubbed 'Hangar 22' near the airline's Auckland headquarters, where selected AirNZ passengers – including some of its most frequent long-haul flyers – have been invited to sample the new seats.
This includes conducting simulated flights over the course of a weekend, so the product development team can study how passengers move through different transitions of work, rest and sleep.