AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALANDAfter almost 600 days of grounding, Air New Zealand’s flagship Boeing 777-300 jet is returning to the skies.

Designated ZK-OKQ, the aircraft last flew on 20 June 2020 between Melbourne and Auckland before being grounded due to the pandemic. It has spent the last four weeks getting a maintenance makeover in Auckland to bring it back into service and will now be used to do what it does best, connecting New Zealand to the world.

The aircraft will initially fly cargo-only services between New Zealand, Australia, and Los Angeles, carrying fresh New Zealand produce to the world – including salmon, lamb, and seafood, as well as pharmaceutical and e-commerce goods.

Air New Zealand Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer Captain David Morgan says the return of the airline's first 777 aircraft is an incredibly special day for the airline and is a sign that the tides are turning.

“After the past 24 months of predominately operating a domestic business, seeing our iconic B777 back in action will be an emotional moment for many Air New Zealanders. This particular 777 was the first in our fleet so it's fitting that it once again flies the Koru in our skies.

“It’s a positive sign there is light at the end of the tunnel, and while it’s only flying cargo to begin with, we are hopeful that as the border restrictions continue to ease, we will be welcoming customers back on board soon.

“Our cargo business is right in the middle of its busiest season with New Zealand products in high demand around the globe so this extra belly space is a much-needed boost for New Zealand exporters.”

ZK-OKQ will be operating its first cargo service on Thursday 10 February between Auckland and Melbourne.

The airline will be keeping a close eye on international demand and, when appropriate, will bring further B777-300s into service.