Flights between Australia and New Zealand could start as soon as July 1, if a Canberra Airport proposal gets off the ground.
Full details of the airport’s ambitious plan are expected to be unveiled on Thursday. But the airport is already inviting would-be passengers to register for the first flights to Wellington on July 1 and 2.
Canberra and Wellington are both COVID free – the ACT declared itself free of the virus on April 30, while New Zealand has not had a new case in nearly a fortnight.
In a statement on its website, the airport said the July flights would be the first that would not require passengers to go into quarantine for 14 days at the other end.
“The incremental approach will allow the early recommencement of travel between Australia and New Zealand, and it will reunite families and friends who have been desperate to reconnect since the borders closed on March 19, 2020,” the airport said.
From Wellington, travellers would be able to head to other NZ destinations. New Zealanders arriving in Canberra would also be able to travel elsewhere in Australia – as long as states had opened their borders.
“Businesses are wanting to escalate the Australia-New Zealand bubble because it’s just not happening fast enough to keep them in business,” Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive chair of tourism John Hart told The Australian.
“We’re not seeing domestic movements pick up quick enough, so we need the bubble to get the tourism activity.”
The airport said it hoped that Qantas and Air NZ would fly the Canberra-Wellington route.
In a statement, Air NZ said it was working with the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum on the trans-Tasman travel bubble.
But it was not proposing any flights to Australia until Tasman borders were open, and then only with the support of governments on both sides.
“We appreciate that both businesses and travellers are enthusiastic about operations – and we assure customers that as soon as it is possible to operate, Air New Zealand will be ready to return to the Tasman,” a spokesperson said.
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters also added a cautious note.
“This is too early and doesn’t have the support of the Australian government at this point in time,” he said.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to be drawn on a time frame, saying “pressing go will take both the NZ and the Australian government to tick that off”.
“We are getting ready … but it does come down to our COVID status,” she said.
“We’re (New Zealand is) on a great track. Australia [is] still dealing with cases, so just a little bit more progress is required.
“It is fair to say we are all very eager but we’re eager to do it safely.”
Federal government sources have told The Australian priority is being given to easing domestic coronavirus restrictions. Trans-Tasman flights were likely still a few months away, they said.
Canberra Airport said its proposal was also subject to continued low coronavirus cases on both sides of the Tasman.
The airport’s plan has reportedly been endorsed by the Wellington, Auckland and Canberra chambers of commerce.
Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett told NZ news website Stuff the aim was “to help the survival, recovery and sustainability of our vital tourism, export, event and travel sector”.
“We feed each other, and we need each other’s dollars urgently to help with economic recovery,” he said.
“New Zealand needs Aussies back here as our single most important visitors, all 1.5 million of them, supporting our tourism sector, our cafés and events decimated by the enforced shutdown.”