Only my second trip report..be gentle!
Air New Zealand
NZ509 Auckland - Christchurch
Scheduled time of departure: 0845
Actual time of departure: 0900
Delay due to: Publicity/press/TV (00:07)
Security delay at previous station (00:08)
Scheduled time of arrival: 1005
Actual time of arrival: 1030
On a quiet Sunday night at work I was browsing the company intranet, and discovered that the last flight of our last 737-200 was on Monday morning, Auckland to Christchurch.
The 732 has been in the fleet for 33 years, the first being purchased by NAC (National Airways Corporation, the domestic forerunner to Air New Zealand) in 1968. The aircraft has been the backbone of the national carriers' domestic service on main trunk routes since then and also the centre of some colourful moments of the airline's history. Right from the beginning, the decision to buy the yet unproven Boeing aircraft over British rival BAC 1-11 was contentious. In October 1965, NAC management presented a report to Cabinet which identified that the new American aircraft best suited the needs of the government-owned domestic
airline, even though the aircraft was still on the drawing board at the time.
However, this decision caused quite a stir in political circles both locally and abroad. The furore culminated in Lord Brown, Minister of State on the Board of Trade, flying out to New Zealand to make a final plea and offer a last minute discount on the BAC 1-11.
In the end, the NAC recommendation was accepted and the first 737-200 arrived in September 1968. It was ready for its first commercial flight the following month, on October 14 from Auckland to Wellington.
The ability of the 737-200 to land at Wellington airport in all sorts of weather conditions was one of the reasons for choosing this type of aircraft.
In later years, the 737-200 was the centre of another debate in Wellington. This resulted in these aircraft being fitted with hush kits so they would meet the local noise bylaws introduced by both Wellington and Queenstown airports.
In the past 33 years, Air New Zealand has owned or leased about 30 of these aircraft. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s it generally had about 11 in its fleet. And now, the very last flight of the very last one, ZK-NAB, was scheduled for tomorrow.
I have fond memories of flying on the 'pocket rockets' as a child regularly between Auckland and Wellington. The marmite sandwiches and other dubious delicacies have been replaced by gourmet meals, but the planes are still the same!
NAB, also known as 'Nuts And Bolts' but officially named 'Parera', started life as G-BHWE with Britannia Airways, the first flight being on 26 August 1980. British Airtours was the next to operate the aircraft. She arrived in New Zealand on February 13, 1994 and was registered to Air New Zealand on February 15, starting service on March 7, 1994. She had the honour(?) of carrying various celebrities over the years, the most recent being Robbie Williams during his November tour of New Zealand.
I checked the loadings and found bookings were already heavy. I decided to risk my luck on a subload staff ticket. Rising at 5am(!), I caught the
Airbus (a wonderful service that departs outside the door of my city apartment every 20 minutes!) and was at the airport at 0630, a couple of hours prior to scheduled departure. Up to the staff ticketing counter, I walked away with a ticket in my hand..now for the anxious wait to see if I'd get a seat!
Although I'm not much of a spotter, I felt like a breath of fresh air, so stepped out to the outdoor observation deck, just in time to see an Aerolineas Argentinas A340 awkwardly lumbering into the air and triumphantally climbing away into the distance, bound for Sydney. It was great to see them return to Auckland - I found out later it was their maiden return flight.
Shortly after, a United 744 arrived after a long flight from LAX, looking as drab and sombre as ever in the grey livery, and Air Canada's special schemed 767 arrived, operating a Tras-Tasman flight on behalf of Qantas.
Having seen enough, I wandered back inside to observe the unique behaviour of airline passengers in the terminal. By watching them, I realised how important it is that each of us does our job correctly - the airport
terminal is a very confusing enviroment to the public, and they trust absolutely in each and every one of us to make their journey troublefree.
I went over to the checkin desk and enquired about the status of NZ509. The agent checked and issued me a boarding pass! yippee! Heading back to the
observation desk, it wasn't long before I heard the familiar whine of the Pratt and Whitneys, and sure enough, 'Nuts and Bolts' slowly nosed her way into Gate 33. However, back in the terminal... Freedom Air cancelled their Auckland to Christchurch flight, and I started getting sweaty palms as the agent requested the affected pax to go to the ticketing desk to be rebooked onto Air NZ flights. I decided now would be a
good time to go to the gate. Passing quickly through the x-rays, I was soon at Gate 33, and to my surprise a television camera crew was there to greet me. Having only had 3 hours sleep, I was in no mood to be filmed.
Soon boarding commenced, and I made my way past another camera crew (onboard this time) to seat 9F, a window seat. The flight was absolutely jam-packed,
with all 105 economy seats and 7 of the 8 business class seats taken. Many staff closely involved with the 732 over the years were onboard as well. After boarding was finished, the captain gave a PA address briefly outlining the reason for it being such a special flight.
As we pushed back and commenced taxi, the fire engines gave the traditional water arch salute. We
swung onto the runway and immediately commenced takeoff. The 'pocket rocket' hurled itself into the air and began a quick climb towards flight level 330,
which was to be our cruise altitude. Weather was heavy clouds with rain.
Soon the captain addressed us again, saying that the flight time was scheduled to be 1 hour and 5 minutes, and introduced us to some of the passengers. There was NAC's original test/training pilot, the pilot who
delivered the first 732 (ZK-NAC) from Seattle, two of the flight attendants who worked the maiden 732 flight, amongst others. They were all wearing NAC uniforms from their time at the airline, and the flight attendants still looked absolutely radiant. The crew working the flight were all the most senior, and were wearing Air NZ uniforms from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. In fact, the captain told us that over 800 years of aviation experience was on board!
Brunch was a croissant stuffed with camembert, ham, and grapes, which was fresh, delicious, and nicely presented, accompanied by coffee and tea.
Around 50 minutes into the flight, the clouds cleared and the Southern Alps (the highest mountain range in NZ) came into view - a breathtaking sight. 15 minutes more and the long flat city of Christchurch appeared.
As preparations for descent into CHC began, I saw the obligatory firetrucks trundle along the runway, ready for the water salute. A series of SHARP banks as we manuevered into position for finals (showing off for the waiting press, no doubt!) and with a whirr of the flaps and 'clunk' of the landing gear everything was ready.
The captain had previously announced he would do his best to 'grease' the landing, and he didn't disappoint. Brakes on quickly, and we taxiied off the runway and paused on the taxiway, and the firetrucks gave us a VERY enthusiastic water salute.
The pause took 10 minutes, for filming/photography purposes.
We then finally docked at the gate, and, after another pause for photo opportunities, the captain announced that we would be disembarking via stairs as another salute to history.
After shaking the hands of the NAC flight attendants and giving -NAB a final pat on the nose, I made my way into the spacious and airy Christchurch terminal, and out to the taxis.
Flight NZ509 lasted 1 hour 30 minutes, took off weighing 47970kg, used 3370kg of fuel during the flight, and had a load factor of 99.1%. ZK-NAB ended her distinguished career with a faultless flight, and was graced with great on-board service on her retirement trip.
Hope you enjoyed this trip report with a difference. Comments are welcome