Auckland Airport and Air New Zealand – what now after Cook Islands quarantine-free flights

Auckland Airport and Air New Zealand say today’s first quarantine-free flight in 10 months is an important first step in reviving international travel, with the big prize the establishment of a two-way bubble with Australia.

Passengers on the flight from the Cook Islands were the first since last April to be able to move through the airport and into the public arrivals area instead of going to managed isolation as around 100,000 people have done.

The arrangement is not reciprocal yet with New Zealanders still unable to travel to the Cook Islands in nearly all circumstances.

The airport’s manager of aeronautical commercial Scott Tasker said the flight was an important start. “It’s an important first step and we know that the governments are continuing to talk and work towards that bidirectional bubble.

”That’s important because we’re keen for New Zealanders to get to the Cooks- we have to reflect on the impact of Covid on their economy.”

The tiny nation is heavily reliant on tourism which has dried up in the past 11 months.

As far as the Tasman went, Tasker said the decision on when a two-way bubble could be put in place lay with the New Zealand and Australian governments. It is possible it could be launched in the first quarter of this year.

There were “some challenges” due to the Covid outbreaks in New South Wales before Christmas but they showed how well Australia could manage them.

“What we saw in those outbreaks is how good the Australians were with their track and trace and case management and hopefully that does provide confidence,” he said.

“From the perspective of aviation and the New Zealand tourist industry, getting the Tasman getting moving will be the thing that saves a lot of businesses and a lot of jobs. The rest of the world looks pretty difficult until that vaccination pathway is clearer.”

About 1.5 million passengers from Australia travelled to New Zealand in 2019.

Tasker said about 600,000 New Zealanders in Australia hadn’t seen their family for more than a year.

Air New Zealand’s chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said the quarantine-free Rarotonga flight was part of proving that borders could be reopened safely.

“Let’s keep building on that,” she said.

Air New Zealand had done a lot of planning and preparing with up to eight destinations in Australia.

”When the decision is made we will be ready to go.We’re working with both governments, the relevant agencies and airports to make sure we’re set up.”

Demand would determine the aircraft the airline would use among its A320 and Dreamliner fleet.

”What we don’t know is whether demand will track as it did pre-Covid and we’ll make adjustments as we need to.”

Air New Zealand is operating two services a week between Auckland and Rarotonga but could face competition from real estate identity Mike Pero’s Pasifika Air later in the year.The new airline’s flights would operate out of Christchurch and Wellington.

The airline is seeking regulatory approval for its operation.

”We remain committed to delivering a new experience for Cantabrians and Wellingtonians who want to fly direct on a daytime flight.No airline has done this before,” Pero told the Herald.

He said he had previously tried to establish a service between the Cook Islands with the incumbent airlines in New Zealand but there was no appetite.

“So, as they say, if you want something done, do it yourself.”

Pero was confident Pasifika Air will be airborne in June and in time for winter school holidays.

While Pero is hoping to launch a new airline in the New Zealand market, Auckland Airport’s Tasker warns that some of the 30 carriers that flew into the city pre-Covid may not return.

“We remain in the future network plans for a number of important carriers who flew here pre-Covid but we do need to reflect on the fact that a lot of their businesses have been decimated, their financials are decimated and a lot of airlines have retired fleets.”

He said the airport was constantly talking to airlines.

“A lot are feeling positive but there are others which are concerning.”

If airlines did pull out fares could go up, Tasker said.

“I’m hopeful we will enjoy an element of competition on key routes but there is the distinct possibility that in the early stages of recovery we may see a lot less capacity and connectivity that we saw in the past and that may lead to higher prices.”

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