Air New Zealand preparing to operate flights to Cook Islands from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch

A travel bubble is expected by the end of the year.
A travel bubble is expected by the end of the year. Photo credit: Getty Images

Air New Zealand has labelled Monday's announcement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that officials are making progress on a travel bubble between Aotearoa and the Cook Islands a "positive step".

The airline is looking to capitalise on an air bridge between the two nations being in place "before the end of the year" with multiple new routes.

Ardern confirmed a draft text was being worked on by officials of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, which will become the basis of any agreement.

"That draft text is near conclusion," Ardern told media. 

"The next phase will be the verification phase; that is where we have officials on both sides who undertake work on the ground to assure ourselves that we're meeting the expectations on both sides."

Air NZ responded to the announcement by confirming work is underway to ensure it's ready as soon as the travel bubble is announced.

"Our teams are busy preparing for options for flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch," Air NZ's chief executive officer Greg Foran said.

"Safety is obviously a big priority for our airline, and we've been working closely with the government, relevant agencies and airports on what is required to keep our customers and staff safe once travel opens up."

Foran said the airline is working with both governments to get ready to start flights to the Cook Islands and it will be in a position to share more details on the airline's plans once details are agreed, including an implementation date.

"We know many Kiwis will be eager to head to the Cook Islands for a warm break and Cook Islanders will be looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends in New Zealand as soon as is possible." 

High-profile businessman Mike Pero, who has said he's in talks with an overseas airline to launch direct flights between the South Island and the Cook Islands, said Ardern's announcement didn't go far enough.

"That doesn't tell us anything we didn't know. Unfortunately we cannot progress our plans any further forward without set dates. We cannot commit to an aircraft or staff and crew."

Last week, Auckland International Airport announced it was in the process of separating its international terminal into two zones as part of its plan to protect the health and safety of people flying to and from countries with which New Zealand has formed a safe travel bubble.