Air New Zealand's last Boeing 747-400 affectionately referred to by pilots as "Daddy's yacht" completed its final flight in teal livery today, as the airline ushers in a new generation of long-haul aircraft.
The 16-year-old aircraft registered as ZK-NBV, also named Christchurch, made its final touchdown with Air New Zealand this morning on a flight from San Francisco to Auckland.
The occasion marked the end of Air New Zealand's nearly 35 years with a jumbo-jet fleet, which is making way for more economical aircraft.
In 1980 the national carrier bought five Boeing 747-200s – a revolutionary aircraft capable of crossing the Pacific Ocean from Auckland to Los Angeles nonstop.
These were eventually replaced with a fleet of eight 747-400s, the first of which was delivered on December 16, 1989, but immediately leased to Cathay Pacific for about a year.
Before its final flight ZK-NBV had completed 67,552 flight hours and 7284 landings.
Air New Zealand said it could not confirm details of the future of the aircraft due to commercial sensitivities.
But the aircraft was likely to continue flying elsewhere, unlike many of its predecessors which ended up in wreckers' yards.
The 747-400s with 379 seats were a feature on the Auckland to London route via Los Angeles, but have been gradually replaced as the flagship aircraft by Boeing 777-300ERs with 332 seats.
Air New Zealand's remaining long-haul, twin-aisle fleet is made up of eight Boeing 777-200ERs, five 767-300ER and the recently delivered first of 10 787-9 Dreamliners.
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said the introduction of the giant 747 helped Air New Zealand keep airfares down, resulting in a significant increase in the number of people who could afford air travel.
"It was a major explosion in the number of people who were able to take holidays and travel," Thomas said.
Given the opportunity customers always wanted to be seated in the 747s' top deck, he said.
"Let's not kid ourselves. The magic of walking up a circular staircase into the bubble at the top was definitely seen as something that made it even more special."
Some customers would be sad to see the 747s go but feedback on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft was extremely positive, he said.
"The 747 as it now stands has had its day. It's not competitive."
Boeing has launched a revised version of its "queen of the skies" with a longer fuselage, new engines and wing design to combat Airbus' A380 giant double-decker.
Modest sales mean the 747-8 appears to have a limited future as a passenger aircraft, but its cavernous size continues to appeal to cargo airlines looking to replace ageing 747s.
New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association president Wayne Renwick, who flew 747-400s as second officer for six years, said the aircraft's extra capacity and range revolutionised the aviation industry.
"It definitely made a difference to aviation in the South Pacific," Renwick said.
Passenger comfort was improved because there was more space and less need for fuel stops on long-distance flights.
Air New Zealand also achieved greater efficiencies because there was less "puddle jumping" needed across the Pacific Ocean, he said.
Generally pilots who flew 747s were nearing the end of their career with Air New Zealand, he said.
"That was generally the aeroplane that saw them into retirement.
"It was quite a sought-after position to get in Air New Zealand."
The 747s' large mass made them a stable aircraft which cruised along like a big yacht, he said.
THE END OF AN ERA
Alastair Kent-Johnston knew the inside of Air New Zealand's 747 fleet better than most passengers.
The frequent flyer and Air New Zealand gold elite member is a veteran of more than 40 flights on board the jumbo jets, the last of which was retired from Air New Zealand's fleet today.
Over the years Kent-Johnston witnessed the evolution of seats and has flown in all them, including stretching out in first class at the front of the plane, business class in the upstairs bubble and economy down the back.
The 747s were a marked improvement over the DC10s they replaced, he said.
"The thing that struck you most was the sheer size of the beast but also the roominess inside."
Air New Zealand phased out DC10s by 1982 after one crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica in 1979, killing all 257 people on board.
Kent-Johnston said it would be sad to see the back of the 747s, but it was an understandable decision considering the more economical aircraft available.
"It's been a great aircraft to fly on. They've been a fantastic workhorse."
Because the 747s could cruise at such high altitude, clear of the worst turbulence, fights were always smoother than in other aircraft, he said.
"You always had a smoother ride over the Pacific in the 747 than you did in the 777-200s or the 300s."