Air New Zealand’s 11+ Hour Flight To Nowhere

Filed Under: Air New Zealand

Hopefully there were at least some avgeeks onboard who appreciated the extra flying, given how limited those opportunities are in New Zealand nowadays?

Air New Zealand 787 returns to Auckland

On Friday, March 19, 2021, Air New Zealand flight 75 was supposed to operate from Auckland, New Zealand, to Seoul Incheon, South Korea, with 55 passengers onboard. A Boeing 787-9 with the registration code ZK-NZI was being used for the service, which was just over four years old.

The Aviation Herald reports on what happened with this flight — it took off from Auckland as scheduled, though about halfway through the flight there was a problem. About 5hr20min into the flight, while at 40,000 feet and over the Pacific Ocean near Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, the crew made the decision to turn around.

The reason? Apparently two of the three computers used for navigation were experiencing issues, so with just one computer remaining, they made the decision to return.

The return portion of the flight took around 5hr45min, so altogether the plane spent over 11hr in the air. That’s roughly the same amount of time that the flight would usually take to reach its destination.

Air New Zealand quickly got a replacement aircraft for passengers. The airline ended up flying the 787-9 with the registration code ZK-NZK to Seoul Incheon, and passengers arrived around 34 hours late.

Totally random, but the Auckland to Seoul Incheon flight has been operating just once per month, and despite that the plane had only 55 people onboard. I’d imagine cargo is the primary motivator for the service, since not many people are looking to leave New Zealand right now.

Why would the plane turn around?

Some might find it strange that the plane turned around at roughly the halfway point. After all, if you’re having a navigation issue and you make the decision to not divert to a nearby airport, is it any “safer” to turn around? I would imagine a few things were at play here:

  • If there were to be a major issue that needs to be fixed, it’s much easier to do that at your hub and maintenance base, rather than at an outstation
  • I doubt this was a decision based on cost, since operating an 11 hour flight to nowhere isn’t cheap
  • I would imagine there were discussions about diverting, but the logistics of that are incredibly complicated in the coronavirus era, given testing and entry requirements
  • It seems that the navigation issue with the plane was fixed pretty easily, because the plane reentered service within a day, and has flown to Los Angeles, Perth, and Tokyo

Bottom line

An Air New Zealand Boeing 787 flying from Auckland to Seoul operated an 11 hour flight to nowhere, after turning around at the halfway point due to navigation issues.

This is one of the longer flights to nowhere we’ve heard about in a while. In the end it seems like the issue may have easily been fixed, given how quickly the plane reentered service.

  1. Interesting that they would fly so far back rather than finding the nearest available airport or somewhere in Australia like Cairns airport.

  2. It’s off topic but when I read the headline “Flight To Nowhere” it reminded me about reading of the time NZAir used to fly sightseeing flights to Antarctica. That ended in 1979 when one flight crashed into the side of Mt. Erebus during a white out condition. That flight was noteworthy for many things including a case study in business management on how to handle a crisis and how a government basically covered their butt they later apologized for.

  3. Not surprised by the sparse load factor. Korea has very strict quarantine requirements for everyone (akin to Australia’s), and has suspended virtually all visa-waiver agreements (including with NZ).

  4. If they had already passed the halfway point then yes, it would be better to continue the trip. I am assuming the passengers and cargo were already pre-cleared for arrival into Seoul. If they had diverted to say Hong Kong; then the plane with its cargo, crew and passengers could be held in quarantine until authorities thought it was okay to fly again. Another option is they maintenance part and labor would be more readily available at their hub than abroad and there might have been additional cargo to bring as well. Lastly, they don’t want to make additional stops and possibly pick up covid along the way either is a possibility.

  5. I agree that currently the only options, unless it’s really about life or death, is to continue to the destination or return to the departure point. Anything else is causing havoc of both pax and crew, potentially even replacement crew, and so on.

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