Stranded Kiwis overseas should be able to return home for Christmas and self-isolate from mid-December if they are fully vaccinated and tested, according to Auckland Airport's outgoing Chief Executive.
Adrian Littlewood, who steps down from his role at Auckland Airport this week, said there was no longer any logic in forcing fully vaccinated New Zealanders with pre-departure testing into quarantine facilities, as the science no longer supported it.
He called on the Government to decide on the matter now, giving the aviation industry time to prepare.
"The Government has stated that vaccinations are our ticket to an unrestricted summer holiday, yet fully vaccinated and tested Kiwis remain stuck offshore, kept apart from family and friends over Christmas," said Mr Littlewood.
"Some of our most prominent scientific experts have come out and said this week that the risk they present is low and better use could be made of our scarce MIQ facilities.
"And we've also seen Air New Zealand announce new domestic safety protections this week, meaning only fully vaccinated or COVID-19-negative people will be able to fly from mid-December.
"The time has come for the grief and inequity caused by these restrictions to end, allowing Kiwis to return, reunite with their families and isolate at home if they are fully vaccinated with pre-departure testing. The Government needs to make this a priority now."
Mr Littlewood said New Zealand was lagging behind the rest of the developed world with ongoing restrictions for inbound Kiwi travellers.
"Citizens in countries like Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are now travelling more freely yet our country remains shut off with no certainty. Australians are going to be able to return home for Christmas in most states with either no isolation or home isolation. Why can't New Zealanders do the same?"
A date needed now for future border re-opening
Mr Littlewood said the time has also come for the Government to announce when the border will open up in the new year.
"We understand the Government does plan to relax the border restrictions in the new year. They need to provide clarity and say so officially now. If the Government can't make this commitment now as New Zealand approaches 90% fully vaccinated then when will this be possible?
"You can't just flick a switch and turn back on an international air network. Our airline contacts have told us that recommissioning a plane and preparing its supporting crew from hibernation could take three months. Airlines lock in their flight schedules a long way in advance and planning for late 2022 and early 2023 is happening now right across the industry.
"Major foreign airlines have told us they need more certainty in order to confirm the timing of their return to New Zealand.
"This could have significant implications for our trading nation and the high-value imports and exports we rely upon. It may also create the ongoing need for taxpayer-funded cargo subsidies, which ultimately won't be enough to keep airlines flying here.
"Our vaccination rates are high and they will continue to climb. We are urging the Government to make a commitment now to when the border will open up to fully vaccinated travellers with pre-departure testing."
29 international carriers operated passenger services at Auckland Airport prior to the pandemic, with 12 currently remaining.
Kiwis could fly to 45 destinations from Auckland prior to the pandemic, with 20 destinations now remaining.
In September 2019, 267,804 Kiwis returned to New Zealand (pre-COVID). In September 2020, 7,263 Kiwis returned to New Zealand. In September 2021, 3,857 Kiwi's returned to New Zealand, 99% down on September 2019 levels (pre-COVID). Source: Stats NZ