Mercy missions operated by Air New Zealand repatriated 7100 passengers stranded due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The first and most high profile Covid-19 repatriation effort by Air New Zealand, was flight NZ1942 in early February from Wuhan, China, where the first coronavirus outbreak occurred.
The flight landed in Auckland carrying nearly 100 New Zealanders, 35 Australians and some foreign nationals from Pacific Island nations. Also on board was a 20-person team including five pilots and 11 cabin crew, medical and engineering staff.
It was the first time Air New Zealand had visited the port of Wuhan, the first of many new destinations the airline would visit during the year to assist with repatriation missions.
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The airline also operated repatriation charter flights to Mumbai and Delhi, its first time visiting those ports.
In April the New Zealand Government chartered three Air New Zealand B777-300 aircraft to repatriate New Zealand nationals stranded in India.
An Air New Zealand 777 with evacuees from Wuhan lands at Auckland International Airport.
Those same 777-300 are now parked in overseas desert storage facilities in the hope that one day international travel rebounds, and they can be put back to work.
Air New Zealand operated 13 charters on behalf of the German government to repatriate its citizens from New Zealand to Frankfurt and flew charter flights to Sydney and Hong Kong to connect passengers on to the Netherlands.
It repatriated Korean nationals from New Zealand to Seoul and returned Samoan citizens to Apia from New Zealand and Sydney.
One of the flights from Auckland to Apia in July, flight NZ990, operated by a 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, was carrying 300 seasonal workers from Hawke’s Bay, Blenheim, Gisborne, Martinborough and the Bay of Plenty.
Air New Zealand chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan said the effort to make repatriation charter flights happen at short notice was testament to the professionalism and expertise of airline staff.
“These charter flights were incredibly complex to organise,” Morgan said.
Teams had to assess new route and airport operations including air service rights and country overflight approvals, he said.
The airline had to ensure new destinations had facilities for aircraft and passenger handling, the availability of appropriate navigation aids, runway compatibility, border facilities and availability of fuel and engineering support, he said.
“Our aircrew trained in simulators to practice landing in a new airport and were well equipped to operate these very special flights.”
Air New Zealand inflight service manager B787 Denise McKeown operated the charter flight to Wuhan.
She said the airline had to turn away volunteers due to the number of aircrew who put their hand up to help, which showed in times of crisis staff banded together to help others.
“It was so special to see customers shed tears of joy on take-off, knowing they were en route to their homeland after such a stressful period.”
The charter flights provided much needed income for the airline in a year when the bottom fell out of the international travel market.
At one point in the year Air New Zealand’s capacity reduced by 95 per cent and revenue dropped as much as 90 per cent due to Covid-19 restrictions.