Air New Zealand has retired its iconic Boeing 737-300 aircraft, with the final flight, NZ557 between Auckland and Christchurch, operated by ZK-NGI on September 6. It closed a chapter of domestic and trans-Tasman aviation that the airline has been marking, well aware of the historic nature of these aircraft and the relationship New Zealanders have with them.
The Kiwi carrier operated the Boeing 737 for 47 years, since the delivery of the first 737-200 aircraft to predecessor airline National Airways Corporation (NAC), registered, appropriately enough, ZK-NAC, in 1968.
“For many New Zealanders, their first flight was probably on a 737 jet, so there are a lot of memories of this aircraft,” Air New Zealand’s fleet manager for the 737-300, first officer Angus Black, told Australian Aviation.
“Air New Zealand was the first airline in the world outside of the USA and Europe to operate the 737,” Black said.
“Our 737-200 fleet made more than 825,000 flights during its 33 years with the airline. Our first Boeing 737-300 joined our fleet in early 1998 – delivered in a special millennium colour scheme. Since then we’ve operated a total of 23 737-300s.”
Air New Zealand’s first Boeing 737‑300 arrived to supplant the -200 fleet in 1998. Indeed, “Air New Zealand purchased the last 737-300 ‘classic’ produced by Boeing [ZK-NKJ] back in 1999. This particular aircraft has flown nearly 36,000 hours and was one of our last few in the fleet,” Black says.
After operating its final commercial flight on September 6, ZK-NGI began a farewell tour of New Zealand, including operating scenic flights from Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland and visiting a number of regional centres.
Retirement from Air New Zealand service may not be the end of the line for the airline’s last 737s.
“We’ll prepare the final aircraft in the 737-300 fleet for sale. The sale is currently under negotiation so we can’t go into details about that. However, it is likely they will continue to be operated commercially,” Black noted.