Air New Zealand has grounded its Boeing 777 fleet until at least September next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In May the airline grounded the majority of its seven 777-300 aircraft until the end of this year.
At the same time the company also signalled it was unlikely to fly its eight 777-200 aircraft in the "foreseeable future" and began preparing to send these into long-term storage overseas. Already two of the aircraft have been spotted at Victorville east of Los Angeles. Near them are Qantas A380s which are expected to be grounded for three years.
Four of Air New Zealand's 777-300 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.
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The airline's 777-200 aircraft will be sent to long-term storage facilities in both Roswell, New Mexico, and Victorville 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.
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 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," she said.
The 777s 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 more fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, along with A320s and A320/21neos for transtasman and Pacific Island routes.
Hundreds of aircraft are being storied in desert "boneyards" as airlines around the world struggle. Air traffic is not expected to recover to 2019 levels for at least three years.