The first flights under the one-way trans-Tasman bubble landed in Sydney on Friday, with passengers now not having to undertake any form of quarantine.
The Air New Zealand 787-9, ZK-NZR msn 65088, departed Auckland at 11:06am as flight NZ103 and touched down in Sydney at 11:59am after a two hour 53 minute journey.
Later on Friday, it’s set to be followed by flights operated by both Jetstar (JQ204) and Qantas (QF146), which are estimated to be around half-empty in total.
— Australia in NZ (@AusHCNZ) October 15, 2020
Passengers arriving will have to complete a health declaration, though are otherwise able to continue their journey unrestricted. Crucially, however, passengers returning to New Zealand will have to quarantine in a government facility.
Initially, Qantas planned to operate six Sydney-Auckland return flights a week, plus four Sydney-Christchurch-Sydney flights, however, this has been scaled back to scrap the latter route and operate just two flights per week due to poor demand.
This week, New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters signalled the bubble will not become reciprocal until “we know it’s safe to”.
Trans Tasman bubble is open! Thank you to Health staff who met the passengers off the first New Zealand to Sydney flight today and screened them. Again NSW leads the nation. @NSWHealth pic.twitter.com/mlK4nhu15I
— Brad Hazzard (@BradHazzard) October 16, 2020
“I think in Australia’s case, we are only a few days away to be able to say certain states are on top of [the virus] so to speak,” said Deputy PM Peters. “Australia is going so well then you had that huge spike in Melbourne and that’s very, very sad. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sydney Airport chief executive Geoff Culbert was more upbeat, pointing out that this is the first time the facility had welcomed international passengers without quarantine since 28 March. He revealed plans have been in place for months and passengers would move through a special “green” channel at the airport.
“We can process all passengers from New Zealand through the green channel and all passengers coming in from overseas from other countries will go through the red channel,” Culbert said. “The green channel passengers are able to go out, clear customs, clear the border and go out into the daylight, and the red passengers will go into hotel quarantine.”
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has confirmed plans are developing to make trans-Tasman travel reciprocal by the end of the year.
It came at the same time as he hinted that travel to higher-risk destinations such as Europe and the US would be off the cards next year if there wasn’t a breakthrough on a vaccine.
“We are beginning to open up to New Zealand because of their similarly strong COVID outcomes and it may be possible to do likewise with other low-risk nations,” Minister Birmingham said.
“However, the prospects of opening up widespread travel with higher risk countries will remain very reliant on effective vaccination or other major breakthroughs in the management of COVID.
“Work continues on how we can facilitate two-way COVID-safe travel between Australia and New Zealand, and I hope that we can see a reciprocal arrangement of quarantine-free travel with New Zealand by the year’s end.
“Our arrangement with New Zealand will provide a blueprint to prove up the model of how we run safe corridors – green lanes of international visitors coming in and out of Australia – and whether this can be extended to other similarly low-risk countries down the track.
“We will also work with health experts on how the rollout of any vaccine will facilitate further international travel.”
On 2 October, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced New Zealanders would be able to fly into NSW and the NT without quarantine from Friday, 16 October. The ACT was added to this arrangement the next day.
The Deputy PM said the arrangement would only operate one-way at first but that the ball is “very much in [NZ Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern’s court” to make it reciprocal.
The acceleration in plans appears to coincide with both Victoria and Auckland regaining control of COVID-19 case numbers after a second spike of infections.
The development marked a significant U-turn after PM Arden earlier said plans had been placed on the backburner and Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said he didn’t believe the routes would start until 2021.