More job losses at Auckland Airport likely if trans-Tasman bubble doesn't come soon

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood wants a trans-Tasman travel bubble on Cabinet's agenda when it meets on Monday.

Delaying the bubble could force the company to look at further job losses - Auckland Airport has already had to cut more than 100 staff and contractors.

Thousands of passengers used to travel through the international terminal daily, but there were no more than 30 travelers waiting for flights when RNZ's Checkpoint visited on Thursday.

Check-in desks were closed, duty free had become a thing of the past, and most aircraft were grounded aside from a small handful of cargo and passenger flights.

"Obviously our next focus is trans-Tasman, and trans-Tasman - as everyone knows - is quite unique in terms of how close our two countries are together," Littlewood said.


"We want to see that start as soon as it safely can for our country, recognising the health challenges that our country has to manage in terms of managing the coronavirus risk.

"Both Australia and New Zealand have done very well and I think that unique tight connection between our two countries; the close information sharing between our two governments and official agencies; and the close relationships between people living both sides of the Tasman means that's a very sensible place to start, and can be done safely.

"So our work to make a proposal... is now with the Government and we'll wait to hear their thoughts on that."

Littlewood wants Cabinet to consider the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group's proposal as soon as Monday.

"I mean, obviously Australia is the most popular destination for Kiwis travelling offshore," he said. "And, in fact, it's pretty evenly balanced - Aussies and Kiwis travelling is about 1.5 million passengers each way, so it's important for Australia as well as it is for New Zealand.

"I think in a world where you can't travel long-haul, beyond those two counties it creates an internal market of somewhere between 8 to 10 million international outbound trips in a normal year that can suddenly travel between our two counties.

"I think it'd be crucial for our tourism industry to get some of that travel back across here to just put some fuel in the machine, hold people in jobs, and make sure that the tourism industry is able to be recovery ready, because we can't just rely on domestic tourism to do that job."

New Zealanders deserved a clearer picture of how the government, officials and big business planned to keep the economy flying along, Littlewood said.

"I think, though, from a looking-forward point of view, as a country I think we all deserve some deep-thinking detail about how we restart our economy. Every day matters."

"Investing in the detail and developing sophisticated answers to the problem of safely managing and opening up our economy is important.

"Our country deserves it."

About 30,000 passengers passed through the international terminal every day before the borders were closed due to the pandemic.

Littlewood said that custom dried up overnight. Auckland Airport entered a tailspin, suspending $2 billion worth of projects including a second runway, a planned hotel, carpark, and domestic jet hub - and that was not the end of the hurt.

"That's been one of the hardest things is we worked really hard to build up our development teams around these huge projects and we had to move quickly to let go about 100 contractors and temporary contract workers early," Littlewood said.

"Following on from that we've worked with another 100 staff, we've had to consult on those roles. About 60-odd have left the business as a consequence.

"Those are the really tough discussions you've got to have and a lot of that's had to be done through lockdown, which is equally tough for those people affected by those changes."

Delays to a potential trans-Tasman bubble could mean more layoffs, Littlewood said.

"You never want to have to do that, so again that's why our focus on restarting as soon as we reasonably can and safely can is important," he said.

"Also we're a fixed-cost business, we're a big bit of infrastructure that requires minimum standards and regulatory requirements to operate.

"There's only so far you can take that and we want to be ready for the recovery and that's the posture we've taken into this - both right-sizing for our new reality, but ready to recover when it's the right time to do so."

For now, though, the international terminal remains largely deserted.