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Air New Zealand farewells the 747

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 12, 2014

An Air NZ 747 in older livery. (Air New Zealand)
Air New Zealand placed the 747-200 into service in 1981.

Touchdown of NZ7 at 6:26am local time on Friday in Auckland brought the curtain down on the Boeing 747-400’s active service with Air New Zealand.

Having flown both the 747-200 and then the 747-400 models of the four-engine jet with its distinctive hump for more than three decades, Air NZ, like many airlines around the world, is sending the 747 out to pasture in favour of big twins such as the Boeing 777-300ER.

The airline’s last flight with the jumbo left San Francisco at 2337 local time with Air NZ fleet captain Ron Woodward, Captain Les Matthews and Second Officer Andrew Hanley in the flight deck of ZK-NBV.

Woodward describes the last flight with the 747 as a momentous day for the airline.

“The 747 is an iconic aircraft,” Woodward told Australian Aviation from San Francisco ahead of the final flight.


“It doesn’t matter if it is flying around or sitting at the terminal on the ground, the distinct shape of it is very endearing. It draws people to look at it.

“The size – the sheer expansiveness of the machine itself, I think there is just something about it.”

Woodward, who has been with Air NZ for 36 years, said there was almost something regal about the 747 and not just because it was an Air NZ jumbo jet that took the Queen on her first commercial flight when she travelled to New Zealand in 1995.

In addition to ferrying Queen Elizabeth to Auckland for a royal visit, the 747 has also played a major role in helping out the country in times of need, such as the Christchurch earthquake. In fact, ZK-NBV was named Christchurch in recognition of the work done in getting people out of the city and providing supplies to the devastated community.

Woodward summed up the 747 in just one word: reliable.

“We are very proud of our engineering facility but I think the work and the dedication of our engineering staff, they have played such a huge part in all of this and sometimes can be a forgotten part of the puzzle being behind the scenes,” Woodward said.

“We haven’t been confronted by any particular surprises by the aircraft. It has certainly delivered throughout its service life with Air New Zealand with a very high standard.”

A recent file image of ZK-NBV. (Andew Aley)
A recent file image of ZK-NBV. (Andew Aley)

However reliable or iconic, the economic realities of the day mean the Boeing 747-400 has to give way, in Air NZ’s case to the more fuel efficient and less costly to maintain 777-300ER. For example, Woodward estimates Boeing’s big twin consumes 15 per cent less fuel per seat kilometre per passenger on the Auckland-San Francisco route than the 747.

Then there is the added savings of having to maintain just two engines and not four, as well as the lower maintenance costs generally. In the days of high fuel prices and anaemic margins, those savings are impossible to ignore.

“There is just no way of denying the fact that with these technological jumps there are advantages to the company,” Woodward said.

“The 777s carry people over the same distance over significantly less fuel cost. They are more efficient and as we are a growing, expanding company we have to look forward to taking advantage of those gains wherever possible.”

While those given the responsibility of brining ZK-NBV home were chosen for more practical reasons – the aircraft has to be ferried to as-yet-unidentified new owners in three weeks – Woodward said there would have been no shortage of volunteers.

“Myself and second officer Hanley will be doing the delivery flight to the new owners so therefore we had to take the last possible opportunity to do the flying so that we could remain current,” Woodward said.

“If it was romantic I would have the entire fleet lining up wanting to do it and it would have been a very tough call. At the end of the day the realities of the situation dictate we had to do what was sensible.”

After delivering ZK-NBV to its new owners in about three weeks, Woodward will spend about three months getting his type rating to fly Air NZ’s 777-300ER fleet.

And the 36-year veteran of Air NZ is looking forward to it, based on feedback from his peers at the controls of the big twin.

“They sing the praises of the 777,” he said.

One of Air NZ's commemorative graphics for the airline's last 747 flight. (Air New Zealand)
One of Air NZ’s commemorative graphics for the airline’s last 747 flight. (Air New Zealand)


One of Air NZ's commemorative graphics for the airline's last 747 flight. (Air New Zealand)
One of Air NZ’s commemorative graphics for the airline’s last 747 flight. (Air New Zealand)


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Comments (12)

  • Matt


    I am really surprised that Air NZ didn’t consider purchasing some 747-8 InterContinental’s but that could depend on economics and needs of the airline.

  • Charles


    What a fantastic tribute to the true “queen of he sky”

  • Stuart Lawrence


    I flew on a air new Zealand 747 400 from auckland to sydney and had a window seat and it was a great flight over the ditch. Sad to say only the big airlines with huge ecnomies of scale will be flyingthe four engine 747 800 and airbus a380s British airways air france etc

  • Evan


    Can you guys post the purpley specs pictures in the new issue?

  • Jarden


    Yes well done “Australian Aviation’ a great story.

  • Dale


    well done air new zealand

  • Mark


    While a legend departs, the new kid on the block 787 arrives. Having seen the Al Jazeera report on Boeing last week, are all the ANZ 787-9s to date and in the future produced at Seattle? Are the Jetstar 787-8s all produced at Seattle? Who is the airline that refuses to accept 787s manufactured in South Carolina?

    Mark, Perth

  • John Harrison


    Goodbye to B747-400 for Air NZ, how much longer will Qantas fly theirs for. As much as I will always love the Boeing 747 product, I guess the march of time has caught up with it. You’ve only got to look to the new B747-8I, and the lack of orders for the passenger version. I’ve got my memories of many many flights in B747s
    I can’t wait to fly in a B787.

  • David


    It is very sad to see them go. QANTAS hint, hint, Alan Joyce. Get the 777’s

  • Mik


    In reply to David re Qantas 777’s. I love Qantas but the management were too stupid in the past, and with the necessary changes being made i.e. making their international and domestic businesses separate, they are decisions that should have been made years ago, seriously why wait till now and not act faster? I think the sooner they start making money the better because then it’ll be easier to take delivery of those deferred A380’s, either exercise their 787-9 options or go with the A350. I personally think the A350 is a wiser option because provided they do take the deferred A380 aircraft, it’ll be far more logical to have an all Airbus International fleet.

  • Stephen


    truly saddining to hear long live the ANZ 747

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