What happens when New Zealand's passenger jets are retired? A career shift for some, the end for others video


After 32 years, Air New Zealand's 767 is retiring.

They could be retiring to sunny California. Instead, Air New Zealand's last remaining 767 planes are making a career shift. The two 20-year-old planes are heading into the freight business.

"They are a very popular freighter," Air New Zealand chief pilot David Morgan said. The planes will be fitted with freight doors on the top level, he added.

Morgan is a fan of the 767, saying they're popular with pilots worldwide.

Air New Zealand’s first 767 aircraft was delivered in 1985.

Air New Zealand’s first 767 aircraft was delivered in 1985.

"It's a very honest airplane. We know what it's going to do. It's well designed and quiet."

Air NZ's 767 makes its final journey
Glamping in an old Boeing 767 is now a possibility
Aircraft graveyards: Where planes go to retire, or die

While the Air New Zealand 767s are being happily redeployed, not every aircraft is lucky enough to get a new lease of life.

Many passenger planes end up in the desert but Air NZ's 767-300 will get a new lease of life.

Many passenger planes end up in the desert but Air NZ's 767-300 will get a new lease of life.

Many end up in "plane graveyards", with others are scrapped or even abandoned.

When a passenger jet is taken out of the skies, its fate depends on its age, airline and earning potential.

"The future of aircraft leaving our fleet varies – for example the majority of aircraft in our retired 747 fleet were either returned to lessors or sold. One of our 747s was broken down for parts," explains Air NZ spokesperson Emma Field.

"It is a similar story with our recently retired Boeing 737 fleet; one aircraft was broken down by us and used for training and display as part of Air New Zealand's 75th anniversary exhibition and the others were either returned to the lessors or sold to new owners," Field said. 

Ad Feedback

Air New Zealand's final Boeing 767-300ER service, from Sydney to Auckland, will land just before midnight on Friday and then be relieved of duty. Its other 767 was retired earlier this week, and they're already been removed from the airline's website.

After more than 30 years of service, 767s - which flew to Australia and the Pacific - are making way for the more fuel-efficient Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. 

However, it's less of a retirement than a sideways step for these two planes: they have been sold and will be converted to freighter aircraft, Air New Zealand says.

No Jetstar NZ plane has ever gone on to have a second career or, indeed, retirement.

"Jetstar operates a modern jet fleet of Airbus A320 and Boeing 787 aircraft and, due to their young age, none have been retired," a spokesman said.


Like the 767s, other old commercial planes are sold off and repurposed.

One of New Zealand's finest examples is  Taupo McDonald's, where customers can eat their meals in an old Douglas DC3 aircraft.

Taupo McDonald's made the list of the world's coolest McDonald's restaurants in 2013.
Once a commercial plane flown by New Zealand's South Pacific Airlines in the 1960s, it was later sold to a top-dressing company.

After being decommissioned in 1984, it was bought by Taupo Mayor Rick Cooper. An excited McDonald's rep asked him if it could be part of the restaurant's future Taupo site, and the rest is history.

Other planes that themselves became destinations include: a vintage Boeing 727 transformed into a rainforest suite at a Costa Rican hotel; a luxury Malibu mansion, the Wing House, which was built from a Boeing 747; and hotels at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport and in Teuge in the Netherlands.


Other planes meet a sadder end in "aircraft graveyards" or "boneyards" around the world - usually in desert-like environments, to help preserve the planes, even though many are destined for the scrap heap.

Most boneyards are located in the United States - an Air New Zealand 747-400 has been photographed at Victorville, California - but Alice Springs, in Australia's Northern Territory, also has a boneyard.

Old airplanes, including Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400s, are stored in the desert in Victorville, California. REUTERS

There are no boneyards in New Zealand, a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman confirmed.

Airlines - or private owners - can use the spaces to store surplus planes, but many are recycled for parts, such as engines, avionics and even seats.

Others are simply scrapped for their metal, which can be reused in electronics or even new planes.


In what must be a weird twist of fate for a large commercial passenger jet, some planes are simply abandoned.

Three Boeing 747 jets were left at Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur airport in 2010, sparking a five-year search for their owner.

In late 2015, Malaysia Airports threatened to auction or scrap the planes if they weren't claimed within a matter of days, prompting an owner to finally come forward.

The planes had changed hands several times since being abandoned.

Swift Air Cargo, which bought the planes in mid-2015, contended that the aircraft were just "parked" at the airport, and said it "very much has not forgotten" about them.

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback