More than 1000 people jammed vantage points around Auckland International Airport or stopped working to watch the first take-off from New Zealand of the giant new A380 Airbus plane, a promotional Qantas flight.
Traffic came to a standstill on nearby Tom Pearce Drive as the two-storeyed plane taxied down the runway.
Many of the airport’s functions may also have stopped judging by the number of staff watching the departure of what has been labelled the world’s largest commercial aircraft.
On board, travel industry dignitaries, people connected to a children’s charity and members of various news media were shown around the new plane — one which Qantas isn’t scheduling to fly to New Zealand at present.
Approaching the terminal it looked like an ordinary-sized plane, but sitting on the top storey as it taxied down the tarmac it was clear how much bigger it was than other planes.
Passengers were promised a more luxurious and spacious flight, and a much quieter one than they were used to, which on the whole is what they got.
One of the passengers in the 332 economy seats, Parnell travel agent Violet Gunn, was impressed with the space.
“I’m sure it will be very popular. For the majority of people who are used to travelling in economy, this is really comfortable,” she said.
“It may only seem like a couple of extra inches of space to the front, but that can make all the difference.”
Upstairs, former All Black forwards Andy Haden and Alan Whetton posed for photographers in business class and found the beds on flattened-out seats were for once not too small.
Reporters on the plane were mainly put in premium economy, a substantial step up in space from economy. A few got to sit in business class, and proved reluctant to leave once the seats were flattened into beds and back massage technology was switched on.
The other promised upgrade — the lack of noise — was welcomed by those on board.
“It’s quite a surprise to be able to hear conversations from four rows back — people might have to be quieter if they want to keep their privacy,” Paul Yeo of the Travel Agents’ Association said while sitting in a cosy business class lounge.
Given the difficulties encountered in a number of other Qantas flights worldwide recently, passengers were relieved — or was that worried? — to get a first-hand example of the airline’s safety consciousness.
After the plane’s landing was first delayed due to high air traffic levels, it was then delayed again by the pilots after a potentially dangerous wind sheer was detected over the airport.
But it eventually landed as smoothly as it had taken off, and most passengers seemed to leave well-disposed to the plane.
The flight coincided with the opening at the airport of a new pier and bridges specifically built to handle large aircraft such as the A380.
Qantas has ordered 20 of the 560-tonne aircraft, but the most it hopes from New Zealanders is that the A380s will convince them to transit to Australia and catch one to other parts of the world from there.
The first regular scheduled A380 flights from Auckland will be on Emirates Airlines from February.