Air New Zealand to take full responsibility if Wuhan flight crew gets sick

The plane will have five pilots and 11 crew on board.
The plane will have five pilots and 11 crew on board. Photo credit: Getty


Air New Zealand will take full responsibility if one of its crew contracts the novel-coronavirus on the charter flight bringing New Zealanders home from Wuhan, its head pilot Captain Dave Morgan says.

It remains unclear how many people will be on the flight, with figures ranging from 70 up to more than 260, but they'll be a mix of New Zealanders, Australians and Pacific Islanders. It will land in Auckland at around 4pm on Wednesday.

Once the flight has landed, the passengers will go through Customs before being bused to the military camp at Whangaparāoa for quarantine.

The Air New Zealand 777-300 charter plane will have five pilots and 11 crew on board, all are volunteers.

Captain Morgan told Checkpoint that there is a low risk of the crew contracting the virus because of the pre-flight screening of the passengers by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

However, he said if it did happen, it would be handled appropriately.

"We have a responsibility, not only with regards to the Health and Safety Act in New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Act as well, but also with respect to being a good employer and we will take full responsibility if anybody subsequently becomes sick as a result of operating this flight, but I don't think that it's a high degree of risk on the basis on the fact of the passengers are well when they arrive, they've been screened and the protocols that we've put in place during the flight down to Auckland." 

Captain Morgan wouldn't go into detail what that full responsibility meant, instead reiterating it would be the responsibility any good employer would take for its employees.

The five pilots won't leave the cockpit during the 16-17 hour flight, but the 11 crew will interact with the passengers while wearing protective equipment. The business class bathrooms will only be used by the crew.

The passengers will be seated in economy class and will use that section's bathroom facilities.

After the flight, the plane will receive a special cleaning service that Air New Zealand uses in similar medical event situations.

Following the flight, all the crew will be given time off, but will not be quarantined. 

Confusion over passenger numbers

The Ministry of Health did not have the exact numbers of New Zealand citizens or permanent residents who would be on the flight, but suggested it was at least double that of earlier predictions of 70 people.

The only Chinese passport holders allowed on the flight will be residents accompanied by immediate family, such as children or a spouse, who are on a New Zealand Passport.

Any other permanent resident with a Chinese passport has been denied a ticket, even if they have family here in New Zealand.

In its latest update, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the final number of passengers is still to be determined, because it depends on passengers' ability to be at the airport in Wuhan and to pass pre-travel health screening tests. 

Those who have registered are predominantly New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, Australian citizens, and other foreign nationals, mainly from Pacific Island countries.

For anyone who comes across a problem at the airport with their travel documentation, MFAT said all registrants for travel have been provided with a consular contact number where dual language assistance will be provided.   

"There is also a small team of NZ consular officials at the airport to help facilitate the process," it said. 

Once passengers land in Auckland, they will disembark to a holding area and undergo standard customs procedures. 

They will then travel to Whangaparaoa to a Defence Force facility for 14 days.