Government's coronavirus travel restrictions will hurt aviation workers - union

Forcing everyone entering New Zealand to enter self-isolation will create a "scale of disruption to the aviation industry unlike anything we've witnessed before," says union E tū.

The union, which has nearly 8000 aviation members across New Zealand, was reacting to the Prime Minister's announcement on Saturday that mandatory quarantine measures will be imposed on everyone entering New Zealand, except those from the Pacific. The measure will be reviewed in 16 days. 

With tourists likely to skip coming to the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognised the industry will be significantly impacted. Many airlines are likely to drop routes for a time. 

Savage, E tū's head of aviation, said in a statement that that could have a flow-on effect to domestic and regional networks. 

"Thousands of workers and their families will be affected as cabin crew, caterers, aviation security, customs, airport workers, engineers, ground handlers, refuellers, and cargo workers see a massive drop off in work. Workers risk redundancies if these hard measures carry on too long," he said.

"The Government’s commitment to supporting the Aviation industry will be vital. Aviation is a lifeblood industry. It must be supported and ready to rebound soon as the restrictions finish.

"Aviation workers are skilled workers with high-security clearance - the industry cannot afford to lose their skills and workers must remain ready to take off again as soon as possible."

He said other workers in the hospitality and tourism sectors would also be impacted.

Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ), said airline crew are exempt from the rule, but will be required to isolate to their accommodation while waiting for return flights out of New Zealand. 

He agreed the restrictions would create a big challenge for airlines. 

"Airlines are expecting a flurry of cancellations from passengers and expect to consolidate flights as passenger numbers reduce," Tighe-Umbers said. 

"We are asking all passengers to please be patient while airlines manage the enormous logistics around the new situation.

 "Airlines know they have a duty of care to get passengers home. They are used to major disruptive events, but the crisis around COVID-19 is unprecedented. This evolving situation will require patience from everyone."

He also praised Ardern's acknowledgement that the aviation sector would be hit hard. 

In making the announcement, Ardern said the Government would work with the aviation industry to find a way forward. Details of that will be announced alongside a business continuity package on Tuesday. 

The Government has already announced an $11 million investment in Tourism New Zealand to diversify the market. Members of the Government have met with representatives from the tourism sector over the last few weeks to discuss with them how to go forward. A tourism advisory group was also being set up to allow for constant communication, reports RNZ.

Air New Zealand responded to the Prime Minister's announcement by saying: "Air New Zealand is reviewing the impact of the new measures announced this afternoon on its operations and will adjust its capacity accordingly. We expect to provide an update on network changes over the next few days."

The company is offering fare flexibility to all those affected by Ardern's announcement. 

Customers with international flights affected by the restrictions due to depart up until March 31 are eligible to hold the value of their fare in credit for 12 months from the time of ticket purchase, receive a refund, or amend the date of their flight without change fees. The normal fare difference will apply.