New Zealand lifted its temporary pause on trans-Tasman bubble flights to NSW on Sunday evening after the state continued to record no further community cases.
However, the first flight to take advantage wasn’t until Monday morning: a Qantas A330, VH-EBM, that departed from Sydney at 9:46 am as flight QF143.
The country suspended flights into the Australian state on Friday as NSW introduced restrictions to stop a COVID outbreak.
A statement released at the weekend said New Zealand officials would, however, ask those returning to declare they haven’t visited one of the exposure sites.
“If you have, you will not be able to travel from NSW, or any border in Australia, to New Zealand,” it read.
The decision was widely expected after contact tracers serologically linked the existing cases to the border, raising hopes the infection hasn’t spread too far. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has though extended some restrictions for a further week because there was still a “missing link” in transmission.
Quarantine-free travel between the two countries only started last month, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had warned the agreement would be temporarily halted in the event of a lockdown.
The deal has been twice paused to WA when cases were identified there.
When New Zealand announced it was starting quarantine-free travel, it said it was doing so under the guidance of what PM Ardern called “flyer beware”. In the event of a COVID cluster, the country will reserve the right to continue, pause or suspend the arrangement.
If a case was found that was clearly linked to a quarantine facility staff member and was well contained, travel will likely continue.
If a case was found that was not clearly linked, and a state responded by a short lockdown to identify more information, New Zealand would likely pause flights from that state in the same way as flights have been paused previously.
But if multiple cases occurred from an unknown origin, flights would likely be suspended for a set period of time.
The two-way arrangement officially opened on 18 April at 11:59pm and initially, Air New Zealand operated 30 flights on launch day, and Qantas and Jetstar 29.
Qantas and Jetstar will operate 83 per cent of their pre-COVID capacity to New Zealand now the bubble has launched, and also start two new routes from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast.
In total, the Qantas Group revealed will operate up to 122 return flights per week across the Tasman on 15 routes, or 52,000 seats each week. It had been operating at just 3 per cent pre-COVID capacity during the current one-way arrangement.
Air New Zealand’s 30 daily flights are set to grow to more than 300 per week operating from Brisbane, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney into Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.