Last Minute Korus: NZ's 737-300s
Regardless the 737-300s were well suited to the domestic trunk route flying between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown that would form the bulk of their service. Air New Zealand would repeat its purchasing trick with its regional aircraft - taking some of the last DHC-8s and Beech 1900Ds also.
The 737-300s were used to replace the remaining 737-200s with the first, ZK-NGA, not arriving until January 1998. The first aircraft were all leased including NGA which had been N1767B when she first flew with Boeing in December 1997. She was originally destined for Western Pacific through GECAS but joined NZ as her first operator instead. She was delivered in special Millennium celebration colours.
Though the first series 300 for the mainline carrier, Air New Zealand's low cost leisure offspring Freedom Air had been operating a pair of 300s since April 1996. Air New Zealand’s second and third 737-300s were leased from Boullioun Aviation Services though both were new build aircraft.
Not all the 737-300s came direct from Boeing via the lessor. Several aircraft which had been built in 1998 had served short leases to customers as diverse as WinAir, Sobelair, Transavia, Frontier and British Airways. By the end of 2002 the fleet stood at 15 aircraft, which included ZK-NGA-K and M-O plus ZK-FRE. The latter as its registration suggests was originally delivered to Freedom Air. ZK-NGJ was actually the very last 737-300 built being delivered new to NZ on December 17, 1999.
There was some pruning of the 737-300 fleet which began in 2004, when NGB and C were returned to lessors. Both NGB and C were leased to Shandong Airlines where NGB became B-5098. Returned in November 2011 both aircraft are now with Canadian North – NGB as C-GCNU.
NGA and NGN were returned to lessors in 2006. In the meantime however three further aircraft joined the fleet from Freedom Air in 2005 (namely ZK-SJB, C and E) as the charter subsidiary switched to A320s. ZK-NGA was returned to GECAS and joined Estonian Air as ES-ABJ ‘Sohni’ and served with them for six years when she joined Air Onix as UR-KRA in April 2012. In July 2014 she joined Flyvista as 4L-AJC and has since moved to Hermes Airlines as SX-BDU.
By 2006 Air New Zealand itself had been operating A320s for nearly three years and these displaced the 737s from Trans-tasman and South Pacific routes. The 737s also began to lose their Pacific waves. That was not the end for the 737-300s however and as well as two aircraft taken on short term leases (9H-ABS from Air Malta and G-THOE from Thomsonfly) a pair of ex-Air Malta aircraft were leased from AWAS in mid-2008 becoming ZK-NGP and NGR. Despite this a follow on order for A320s in 2009 spelled the end for the 737s and the fleet was gradually wound down.
ZK-NGI operated the type’s last service not being finally withdrawn until September 6, 2015.
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: