Airline industry welcomes early border reopening, but wants pre-departure testing axed

The airline industry has welcomed news the border will reopen two months earlier than expected, but are demanding an urgent end to the requirement for pre-departure COVID-19 testing.

Aotearoa's border will completely reopen from July 31, including to cruise ships and international students, after being shut during the pandemic. The date has been brought forward from October.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the change on Wednesday, but did not announce an early axing of pre-departure testing requirements, which are currently scheduled to be removed at the end of July.

Following the ending of isolation and quarantining requirements, pre-departure tests are one of the very last measures in place at the border to protect New Zealand's health system amid the ongoing pandemic.

But the inconvenience of completing one before flying to Aotearoa means they are unsustainable, according to the airline industry.

"Already passengers are reporting having to spend half a day crossing cities to get tests done under great stress to meet the pre-departure timing requirements. That is in places like Australia and Singapore," said Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand (BARNZ).

"It is not going to be sustainable for much longer. It needs to go as quickly as possible - certainly by the end of this month."

Earlier this month, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran told AM he also wanted pre-departure testing ditched as it "adds some friction" to the travel process.

BARNZ hailed the border reopening announcement, saying it means travellers can "finally book with certainty" and helps "put the final pieces of the puzzle together in terms of routes and capacity for flights to New Zealand". 

But it insists pre-departure testing requirements must go as soon as possible.

"It is good that the Government has recognised pre-departure testing no longer remains an effective tool for managing COVID. But in reality, the Government may not be able to keep it anyway, because testing capacity is rapidly drying up around the world," said Tighe-Umbers.

While a change to the current rules was not announced on Wednesday, pre-departure testing requirements were addressed.

"I understand that the next question naturally is whether all of our border settings, including pre-departure testing, will remain in place. As we begin the consultation on our variant plan, it's clear that monitoring at the border will continue to be important," said Ardern.

"But we will be able to change up the role that pre-departure testing has played. While we are still working through this transition, it's fair to say we are confident that pre-departure testing will be removed by the time we come to the final phase of our reopening in July."