COVID-19: Air New Zealand crew vaccinated as airline continues struggle for survival

Air New Zealand crew were among those rolling up their sleeves on Thursday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as the airline continues its struggle for survival. 

The national carrier made a net loss of $72 million in the six months to December 2020.

The first of the airline's roughly 3800 aircrew were inoculated on Thursday as part of the Government's vaccination programme. Border staff are among the first to receive the jab, in a bid to protect frontline workers against the virus. 

New Zealand's ongoing border closures are taking a significant toll on the airline, which is seeking more funding to stay afloat.

Air New Zealand 787 pilot Paul Dawson was in San Francisco last week, and will head to China next week - but it's not the kind of travel one would envy.

"You are locked in a hotel room," he told Newshub.

He says the vaccine will give aircrew and pilots "another layer of confidence" while travelling to countries ravaged by COVID-19.

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran hoped the Government would have established travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific Islands by now. He's calling for air bridges to open up as the airline burns through almost $80 million every month.

"One of the things that I've learned to do over the past year is to try and not be so prescriptive that you can pick the day things are going to happen," he said.

"We've got people to pay and loans and leases."

The national carrier has already used about half of its $900 million loan from the Government - and it's likely to need a similar amount from shareholders to survive another year. 

"It would be similarly in those ballparks," Foran said.

That's not the only thing on its wishlist. Air New Zealand chief medical officer Dr Ben Johnston is hoping a less invasive testing option will be made available for aircrews and border staff, who are subjected to frequent testing.

"We'd really like to see a test towards non-invasive testing with saliva, because it's so much more comfortable," he told Newshub.

Dawson, who has been swabbed 18 times, agrees.

"I've had 18 nasopharyngeal tests now, and I am a little bit over it."

The airline has two trials of saliva testing underway, the subject of yet more discussions with its biggest shareholder - the state.