Air New Zealand brings its new 777-300ER to Wellington Airport tomorrow to show it off in the nation’s capital. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, given that Wellington has a 6,352-foot runway that is generally considered long enough for anything up to a 767-300 or an Airbus A330-300 (although it typically sees 737s and A320s).
The airline says it couldn’t operate the 777 into WLG with a full passenger and freight load, but can make the landing this time because the aircraft will be “virtually empty with only essential staff on board.”
Air New Zealand says the 74-meter length of the -300ER makes it the longest Air New Zealand aircraft to land at this airport.
However, this is far from the first time a widebody has come to WLG, as someone pointed out to me via twitter. This very observant person commented that Qantas used to serve WLG with 747SPs that could manage the short runway (although I also read that they had to dump fuel before landing). So it’s interesting that the 777 had to take off light when the 747SP could manage it with a passenger load.
Apparently there was also an incident in 1991 when a United Airlines 747-200 bound for Auckland diverted to Christchurch, but landed at WLG instead. According to a thread I found from an RNZAF forum, Air New Zealand itself made at least two test flights into WLG using a 747-200, and may have once diverted a 747-400 to the airport.
Pictured below is one of the Qantas 747SPs landing at Wellington (via Wikpedia)