Air New Zealand will restart commercial flights from Auckland to Rarotonga, on the Cook Islands, on 21 January following the recent announcement of a new one-way travel bubble.
Moving forward, the airline will operate two A320 flights per week, departing Rarotonga on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The announcement comes after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Cook Island residents would able to fly into the country without quarantine but not the other way around – in an effective reversal of the country’s bubble with Australia.
“We said we would take a phased approach to resuming two-way travel and will do so only once all safety protocols can be met,” said PM Ardern.
Those arriving in the country will undertake health checks and must wear masks in flight.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran called the lifting of restrictions fantastic news.
“We know many Cook Islanders will be eager to connect with friends and family in New Zealand, and we look forward to seeing what a two-way quarantine-free travel arrangement will look like,” said Foran. “Of course safety is our first priority for our customers and staff. We’ve been working closely with both governments, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up.”
The unique arrangement will also allow some specialist workers, contractors and the judiciary to travel the other way for short terms without the need for quarantine.
“There has been a desperate need to clear one year’s worth of court cases due to the inability to conduct trials and hearings before a judge,” said Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown. “Private companies have been ham-strung by the inability to bring in specialists for major projects and infrastructure work.”
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how Air New Zealand operated its first quarantine-free flight to Brisbane.
Previously, passengers on the route had to go into hotel isolation because not everyone on the aircraft started their journey in New Zealand, raising the potential for COVID spread.
However, flight NZ147 was a deemed a designated ‘safe travel zone flight’, meaning everyone on board had to sign a declaration stating they had been only in New Zealand for the preceding 14 days.
New Zealand had previously pledged in December to drop its border restrictions to Australia in the first quarter of 2021, however that could now be in doubt with a resurgence of cases across the Tasman.