The country's national carrier celebrated 75 years in the skies by showcasing its eclectic past and present uniforms in a sky-high fashion show yesterday.

From Dior and Nina Ricci to New Zealand designers including Barbara Lee and Trelise Cooper, passengers on Air New Zealand's commemorative Auckland to Sydney flight were shown some of the airlines most quintessential uniforms.

The anniversary replicated the airline's maiden flight across the Tasman, made in 1940 by ZK-AMA Aotearoa, a Short S30 flying boat.

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The original 1940 flight took a languorous nine hours - an age compared to the 3.5 it now takes in a modern 787-9 Dreamliner.

Aviation commentator Geoffrey Thomas said the Dreamliner offered a fantastic comparison to the S30 flying boat.

"The 787 carries 10 times more payload than the S30, and carries 17 times more passengers and flies three times faster, flies 13 times further and has a crew of a pilot and a co-pilot - of two - as opposed to a crew of five or seven [on the flying boat]."

The Dreamliner's engines were also 48 times more powerful than those on the S30, and 60 times more reliable, he said.

Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner Captain Phillip Kirk. Photo: Brendan Manning.
Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner Captain Phillip Kirk. Photo: Brendan Manning.

"And that's what drives aviation today, that engine technology, and the dramatic advantages that have been made."

While at £30, the original 1940 passage cost equivalent to a year's annual salary, today's trans-Tasman crossing cost as little as two days', Thomas said. "A dramatic difference."

Air New Zealand captain Philip Kirk said the real cost of flying has plummeted over the 75 years, with modern aircraft using one-twentieth of the amount of fuel per passenger than the S30 did.

A pilot with 30 years' experience under his wings, Kirk now oversees, flies and consults the airline's Dreamliner fleet.

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The S30's also flew a lot lower, at around 8000-9000 feet, he said.

"Nine hours to Sydney on a fine day would have been nice, but if there was a big frontal system embedded somewhere in the Tasman - it must have been really, really unpleasant.

"Aviation's come an amazingly long way since that Air New Zealand first flight."

Despite the technological advances, Kirk said a pilot on the S30 would not be out of water on a Dreamliner.

"Those fundamental philosophies of flight and the way the aeroplane flies hasn't changed.

"What has changed is that interface, there are just so many more computers and automation."

Watch Air New Zealand's corporate 75th celebration video

Today marks Air NZ's 75th anniversary. The airline's maiden flight by a Short S30 flying boat took off from Auckland on this day in 1940 and landed in Rose Bay in Sydney. This supplied corporate video includes footage from the maiden flight.