The sheer distances involved in transiting the Pacific, relative lack of wealth and the number of small islands, often with poor airport facilities, means that travelling in the Pacific you can easily find some relatively obscure small prop-liners at most Pacific island airfields. There had been Air Rarotonga Embraer 110s and Air Tahiti ATRs in Rarotonga and a wealth of Islanders and such in Vanuatu. Fiji was not to disappoint in this respect but first we had to depart Auckland.
Above: Despite the loss of the viewing area you can still get close to aircraft when through security. This 777 actually blocked views of the left side of the old international pier
Above: Despite some of the fleet having long-term engine issues NZ 787-9s are a common sight
Above: Qatar Airways operate a very long non-stop route to Doha with 777-200LRs like A7-BBE here
Below: All four NZ A321NEOs were present including here ZK-NNA. The domestic terminal is in the background
Auckland International Airport (AIAL) has grown hugely since we moved to New Zealand and there is constant work going on to make the airport of the future - a two runway hub with a merged international and domestic terminal using the bones of the existing international terminus. There's plenty of information about the airport's future transformation about. Below gives an idea of how the airport may look in the future. All that exists of this at the moment is the far runway and about half a pier of gates!
It was more than ten years ago now that the international terminal acquired its first extra pier (Pier B), which consisted of gates 15 and 16 capable of accommodating two large widebodies or four narrowbodies. Along with this work there was substantial apron development for more remote stands as international traffic boomed to the hub (largely driven by huge expansion of services from China by Chinese carriers). Below is how pier B looks as of May 2019:
It was late July last year that the airport completed the extension of Pier B with two new gates (17 and 18) effectively doubling the pier’s size and allowing the bussing of passengers to aircraft to drop from 10% to 3%. The new gates seem to be mainly used for flights to the USA and Australian bound 737s. Pier B has always been the airport’s natural home for many of its A380 services (there was a time when it received 3 daily Emirates A380s and a Singapore A380).
It was to pier B that we were to depart from on NZ52. You might expect that the 3 hour flight from Auckland to Nadi would be catered for by an A320 but in a show of the traffic volumes, even in the nearing off-peak period of late April (and the last weekend of the Easter holidays), it was actually a 2011 build Boeing 777-300ER (ZK-OKQ) that awaited us at gate 15, wearing her all black scheme. I've actually flown on this aircraft before, way back in 2012 on another short hop, that time to Melbourne.
Above: From gate 15 looking back to the original pier A. Note the EVA Air 777 another aircraft leased in by Air New Zealand to cover for their missing 787s.
Below: I seriously doubt gate 15 has ever seen a B757, A318, DC-10, MD-11 or A340-200!
I have to say that I was impressed with the airy, open and bright facilities of Pier B, whose width suggests that in time it will probably become a double sided pier. We were departing at 9:45 on a Friday morning and the terminal was quite busy. As we walked to the gate a China Southern 787-9 pushed back (in fact the 787th special livery aircraft). Note the Manukau harbour in the background with the harbour mouth at Manukau Heads. I live over on the right of that green mass.
Other traffic was fairly typical: Virgin Australia 737-800s, a Hawaiian A330-200 and lots of the Air New Zealand, fleet including no less than four of the new A321NEOs.
Above: Air New Zealand has been leasing a pair of ex-Singapore Airlines 777-212ERs from Boeing as replacements for grounded 787s. Here's ZK-OKJ
Below: ZK-NZD pushes back from gate 16
Above: A321NEO ZK-NNC
Below: Two more A321NEOs at distance must be ZK-NNB and NND
Above: Hawaiian Airlines A330 N385HA waits patiently at gate 18
Below: The area of hard standing gates has increased dramatically in recent years and in this view has 7 members of the NZ fleet plus a pair of Virgin Australia 737s
Our taxi to the start of runway 23L took us past the domestic terminal and Air New Zealand engineering facilities.
Above: Jetstar operate domestic DHC-8 flights to regional destinations with VH registered ex-East Australia DHC-8s
Below: The Jetstar end of the combined domestic terminal
Above: NZ A320s lined up at the domestic gates
Below: Tasman Cargo's only 767 in the engineering hangar
Below: This leased 777, ZK-OKI, had operated her last flight for NZ on April 24th and flew on to Victorville on the 29th into storage.
Above & Below: Barrier Air (formerly Great Barrier Airlines) and FlyMySky (formerly Great Barrier Xpress) continue to fight a pitched battle for traffic to Great Barrier Island although the formerly diverse fleets have now standardised. Barrier Air no longer operates Trislanders, Islanders and smaller aircraft and instead has 3 Cessna Grand Caravans. FlyMySky has four Islanders.
Departure and the flight were nothing out of the ordinary, although it was nice to have a range of IFE on a short haul flight.
Arriving at NAN
Nadi International Airport (NAN) is the primary gateway to Fiji, although it is not the capital city and is indeed a four hour drive from the capital Suva (which only has a small facility). Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is on the largest island Viti Levu. Over 330 islands make up Fiji but only two, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population (which is somewhere around the 899,000 mark). Fiji’s largest industry is tourism and so the airport is very well equipped.
NAN has two active runways (02/20) and (09/27) although the 3,273 metre 02/20 is the runway used for commercial jet movements. Stepping off of the 777 used a modern airbridge although in a nod to the all year round temperatures you exit the airbridge into an open air covered walkway prior to entering the terminal. It was just as well it was covered as soon after we landed it started to rain. Once inside the terminal it was a short wait to get through immigration and past customs.
Alongside our 777 was one of Fiji Airways 6 A330s. As you can see it was raining rather heavily:
Just across from the international terminal is a large Fiji Airways hangar. Upon arrival it contained an A330, ATR and Fiji Airways pair of grounded 737 MAX-8s.
Above & Below: Fiji Airways' 737 MAX-8s DQ-FAB and FAD sit forlornly outside the hangar awaiting the day when they can fly again.
I was actually surprised by how well equipped and modern the arrivals area was, certainly compared to Port Vila in Vanuatu. It was a short walk outside to the bus stops where we caught our transfer to the hotel.
We stayed at the Warwick Resort, about halfway between Nadi and Suva, for 4 nights before being returned to NAN for departure. Fortunately I had a little more time to take a look at the local traffic on the way back and this will feature in part 2 of this story.
I'm Richard Stretton, an aviation enthusiast and major collector of 400 scale model aircraft. This blog discusses ongoing events in the world of 400 scale.
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