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First Quarantine-Free Flights Arrive in New Zealand

A Qantas 787-9 performs a test flight at Paine Field. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Zera)

The aviation industry in Australia and New Zealand is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. After being hit by the pandemic, a two-way trans-Tasman bubble arrangement has been launched. Bubble flights to both Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand started this week.

The first quarantine-free flight to New Zealand touched down at Auckland International Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday, over an hour delayed because some passengers failed to complete the travel documents on time. According to Qantas, the flight is operating to Auckland at close to full capacity.

“Quarantine-free travel has been almost 400 days in the making. Reopening these flights across the Tasman is a very important milestone in the recovery from the pandemic for Australia and New Zealand but also aviation and tourism,” Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Group, said. Before the pandemic, New Zealand was Australia’s second-biggest source of international visitors.

Qantas has seen strong demand since the travel bubble’s announcement as the carrier has started a new route between Gold Coast and Auckland.

In the meantime, Brisbane Airport will see over 40 services to New Zealand this week, and the airport expects to see strong demand in the weeks ahead in the mid-year school holidays.

“To protect the bubble, and to make real the possibility of opening to more international markets, we need to get Australian’s vaccination rollout back on track and firing on all cylinders,” Gert-Jan de Graaff, the CEO of Brisbane Airport said.

The first quarantine-free flight from Sydney landed in Wellington at 1:21 p.m. Airport representatives from both countries expressed their satisfaction that the bubble was now open for business.

“We are extremely excited to welcome our Australian guests and returning New Zealanders can’t wait to see families and friends reunited with each other again,” Wellington Airport Chief Executive Steve Sanderson said in a statement.

While Qantas has prepared to reopen its flight to Auckland, competitor Virgin Australia has been developing another strategy.

Virgin Australia said that “mindful of evolving border requirements which add complexity to our business as we push ahead with plans to grow our core domestic Australia operations.” That statement came as the airline announced it would suspend the sale of tickets for most New Zealand services until Oct. 31.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia will enhance its domestic services with 10 additional Boeing 737-800s. In addition, three aircraft are expected to join the fleet this month and the rest of the batch will enter service by October. The airline is expecting the return of more than 80% of the airline’s pre-pandemic domestic capacity by mid-June.

In response to the demand surge, Virgin Australia is hiring 150 additional cabin crew and announced that more than 220 cabin crew would return to the skies from the airline’s discontinued long-haul international, ATR regional and Tiger Australia operations. Virgin Australia confirmed the services to Queenstown are set to recommence on Sept. 18.

According to Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the country is “in discussions” for a travel bubble with Singapore.

Pete Ainsley


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