Part of Air New Zealand’s marketing strategy in the late ‘70s focused on their state-of-the-art long-haul jet, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The first DC-10 arrived in 1973, and by November 1977 Air New Zealand operated eight of the 30-series tri-jets, making it “one of the largest operators of the long-range version of the aircraft.” The first jet had cost the airline $19 million; four years later the eighth carried a $35 million price tag.23

A McDonnell Douglas DC10. © Boeing

[As an aside, Air New Zealand took delivery of its fourth DC-10, ZK-NZP, the aircraft now laying on the slopes of Erebus, on 12 December 1974 in Longbeach, California. It was the 182nd DC10 off the production line, and had been fitted with super-powered CF-50C engines, each one providing 51,000lb of thrust. By the time of its demise, it had flown 20,756 hours.24]

Exhibiting parallels with current claims about the yet-to-fly Boeing 787, advertisements in Jetaway, Air New Zealand’s international in-flight magazine, focused on its impressive fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness: “Air New Zealand… introduce this special part of the world [the Pacific] to their passengers with a special kind of pride. And they do everything possible to care for it. That’s why Air New Zealand chose General Electric CF6 engines for their fleet of DC-10s. They knew these engines would help keep the skies over the Pacific clean and quiet… would leave no trail of smoke… produce much less noise than narrow-body jet aircraft… and consume 25% less fuel.” 25

Non-advertising media also waxed lyrical when referring to the DC-10: “The big jet made a curving pass over Scott Base, then was lost in the glare of sun and snow slopes… As if out of respect for the great Antarctic silence and solitude, the plane made no noise.” 26

Of particular significance to the 11-hour, 5400-mile Antarctic flights was the aircraft’s area navigation system. Able to provide high-integrity position information without reference to ground-based navigation aids for long periods, it enabled the DC-10 to make the flight to Antarctica and back safely and accurately – and it captivated journalists. Geoff Chapple, in the New Zealand Listener, enthused: “Area Nav!... 12 million bits of information went in the bottom, and from the top issued a fool-proof intelligence… Pick the point, feed the coordinates in, and it would take the plane there! It wasn’t enslaved to magnetic north or sun or stars – only to numerals.” 27 Nothing could be safer!

On several flights – if not all – the commentary was augmented by contact with personnel on the ground in Antarctica, or US Navy pilots airborne in the vicinity. These exchanges were played through the PA system to passengers. (Click here to listen to Bob Thomson’s commentary from flight TE901 on 21 November 1979.)