Civil Aviation sector predicts rough weather for New Zealand

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Justin Tighe-Umbers, Chairman of the New Zealand Aviation Coalition (NZME Photo)

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Wellington, November 25, 2021

New Zealand is clinging to some of the tightest border restrictions in the world that no longer make sense with Covid-19 circulating widely in Auckland and spreading to other regions.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, Co-Chair, New Zealand Aviation Coalition (NZAC), said that the aviation sector cannot understand why the government is still requiring self-isolation when data shows it is unnecessary.

“The aviation sector believes the third step in the government’s border plan needs to be open for all double-vaccinated travellers, without self-isolation, as soon as possible. That is the only way we will retain airlines,” he said.

The staged opening of the border announced by the government ultimately means that New Zealand is off the radar for international travellers and airlines are likely to react by deploying aircraft to other routes.

Australia shows the way

With the latest dates for re-opening we are months behind Australia and out of step with the rest of the world. New Zealand is one of few countries to require self-isolation – North America and Europe and some Australian states are opening for double vaccinated and tested travellers, he said.

“We can go and visit family and friends in Australia, but there is no certainty that they will be able to come see us for another five months and even if they can they’ll still have to isolate for seven days. Evidence shows self-isolation is just not needed for double vaccinated travellers. Over the past month 11,376 people have crossed the border with only 71 cases reported; that is less than 1%. Compared with around 200 cases here in New Zealand each day, many with community contact exposure, there are only an average of two per day entering New Zealand. This shows the real danger is not the border,” he said.

Mr Tighe-Umbers said that Parliament was informed on November 24, 2021 that of arriving passengers from Australia since August 23, 2021, there were only three cases of Covid, and not one of these was double-vaccinated.

New South Wales and Victoria have been opened to returning citizens since November 1, 2021.

New South Wales is now quarantine free. More than 17,000 people have crossed its border since opening and their daily case rate is similar to that of New Zealand.

“Allowing Kiwis to return home and self-isolate is long overdue, given the negligible risk they represent to the community” Mr Tighe-Umbers said.

Lack of clarity hurts

Chris Roberts, chief of the Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA), said it would be helpful to have some dates to work with, but the total lack of clarity around when New Zealand will allow in international visitors without a seven-day isolation requirement is hugely disappointing.

“The government has failed to recognise the critical importance of visitors to re-establishing our connections with the world. This is not just about tourism. If international airlines decide to pull out of New Zealand, it may be years before they return—putting vital trade links for high value exports and critical imports at risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is establishing clear timeframes on genuine border reopening. Countries are allowing vaccinated and tested travellers to move more freely.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this is in keeping with the Ministerial Declaration on the issue at the recent ICAO High Level Conference on Covid-19.

IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford has called on all governments to adopt simple, predictable, and practical measures to both safely and efficiently facilitate the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open.

Tourism sector disappointed

Tourism Export Council of New Zealand Chief Executive Lynda Keene said she was disappointed with the government’s decision to continue with self-isolation into Q1 of 2022.

“The impact on international tourism businesses cannot be understated. Decisions today will affect the next five years of New Zealand’s international tourism offering. Australia will be the winner. New Zealand will be the loser,” he said.

The aviation coalition believes that New Zealand’s lack of clarity on the border re-opening and prolonging the requirement for arrivals to self-isolate will leave New Zealand’s international connectivity stuck at 1960s levels.

“International airlines plan schedules way in advance and New Zealand is falling off the radar. Every day that goes by without certainty, is a day they choose to put their assets elsewhere,” Mr Tighe-Umbers said.

About the New Zealand Aviation Coalition

NZAC is an industry group representing New Zealand’s leading airlines and airports: Auckland Airport, Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ), Christchurch Airport, New Zealand Airports Association, Queenstown Airport and Wellington Airport.

Its goal is to rapidly rebuild New Zealand’s domestic and international air transport network. The Coalition works closely with the government and experts to create the ability to travel safely by air both at home and overseas.

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