Richard Maher has had a grandstand view of the aviation world falling apart during the past six months. He's also seen some unique flights because of the pandemic.
High in Auckland Airport's apron control tower, he saw the number of international flights dwindle initially as flights from China were suspended, plunge as Covid-19 fear gripped air travellers and then stop almost completely as borders were shut.
From overseeing an average of 156 international aircraft movements a day last year, he has seen them fall to an average of just 31 a day during April and May as passengers numbers dropped by about 98 per cent.
"On a Sunday towards the start of March, we went from 82 arrivals and 76 departures and then fast forward to a month later, that went down to seven arrivals and nine departures," the airfield operations officer says.
"It went from this place being a hive of activity to nothing at all. It became a ghost town ... you can basically hear the wind rustling the grass. It was really sad to see."
The pandemic has ravaged aviation globally and in this country, with airlines, airports and associated industries losing hundreds of billions of dollars and laying off tens of thousands of staff. It has been the worst economic crisis in the sector's history.
The Auckland Airport tower oversees international flights, as Airways air traffic controllers in a tower to the southeast don't have visibility over much of the apron area where aircraft taxi, dock at gates or at hard stands.
After landing, an Airways controller will hand over a plane to Maher to and his colleagues to oversee the taxi-ing to gates, and they also dispatch the planes before departure.
The international passenger terminal was this week close to empty on the eve of Auckland's sudden shift to alert level 3, thanks to the re-emergence of Covid in the community which has also affected domestic operations. Limited international passenger services are continuing though, and are set to be boosted by Qatar Airways' return next week, initially with three outbound flights a week via Brisbane to 35 destinations.
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VA9940 has just arrived in Auckland. Here to repatriate French nationals stuck in New Zealand due to COVID-19. A charter on behalf of the French Government, Virgin Australia is operating the Boeing 777-300ER to Paris from Brisbane via Auckland and Hong Kong. Once in Paris the plane will fly direct back to Brisbane. This will be at least a 19 hour flight! Virgin Australia used to only operate Boeing 737 aircraft here so it is nice to have a 777. The last time I saw one here was back in July 2016 when one came in for maintenance. ✈ #virginaustralia @virginaustralia #va #velocity #flyVA #airsidewithrichard #AucklandAirport #NZAA #boeing #777 #boeing777 #boeinglovers #aviation4u #airbusboeingaviation #megaplane #avgeek #airsideoperations #maintenance #work #airportops #aviation #aviationdaily #instagramaviation #work #airbusaviation #airside #onthetarmac #aviationvideos #instaaviation @airbusboeingaviation @megaplane @biggestplanes @insta.plane @aviation4u @aviationdaily
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This week the international arrivals duty free area was sealed off behind high hoardings and by late morning there was just one person in the immigration hall.
On remote stands and parts of taxiways, aircraft from around the world are parked up, some with covers over their wheels and engines showing they are mothballed for some time. Several of Air New Zealand's 16-strong Boeing 777 fleet are parked ahead of flights to long term deep storage facilities overseas.
Traffic has built up since April mainly due to the growth in specialised freight flights, some in cargo-only passenger aircraft and helped out by New Zealand government subsidies.
There have been dozens of special repatriation flights by airlines that have never been here before, flying planes that have never previously landed in Auckland. It's been a plane enthusiast's dream.
"One of the standouts for me was Lufthansa bringing in a 747. And that was shortly followed by a period of a week where Lufthansa brought in a daily A380, which was really awesome to see," says Maher, who photographed most of the new arrivals for his widely followed Instagram account.
It was the German airline's first visit to Auckland, and carriers Swiss and Austrian Airlines also made their New Zealand debut to get thousands of stranded European visitors back home.
Etihad Airways became the third of the big Middle Eastern carriers to fly to Auckland (albeit a one-off) with a service from Abu Dhabi via Australia using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It brought in passengers and took off with more than 25 tonnes of fresh food from this country.
Auckland has also been used as a fuel stop for aircraft from Argentina and Chile on their way to China on freight flights, in what could be a forerunner to more services from South America to Asia via this country.
A Chilean Air Force Boeing 767 from Santiago stopped in en-route to Beijing to pick up medical supplies, while an Aerolineas Argentinas A330-200 from Buenos Aires bound for Shanghai also stopped here.
The pandemic also tested another route that has been mooted but so far hasn't stacked up economically for airlines: non-stop between Auckland and India. Air New Zealand ran a number of services from late April, and from June Air India operated a Boeing 777-200 between New Delhi and Auckland.
An Antonov 124 operated by Volga Dnepr flew in from Singapore on June 24 with Rolls-Royce engines for Air New Zealand's Dreamliners and a French Airforce A400M Atlas was another highlight, says Maher.
"That thing is gargantuan when you compare it to the size of the human."
The plane was once promoted by Airbus as a possible replacement for New Zealand's Defence Force Hercules. When it left Auckland in early May, it was able to fly a low pass down the deserted runway and do a wingtip wave before carrying on its flight to repatriate citizens back to Tahiti.
Qatar will fly a new plane here next week, an Airbus A350-1000.
Maher worked as an intern at the airport while studying for a mechanical engineering degree at AUT. That led to a fulltime job that's also his passion.
"I was like a kid in a candy store. I couldn't get enough of it and I still can't get enough of it. They say if you love what you do you'll never work another day in your life and that's absolutely true."