A new push to streamline transtasman trips has been launched by Australia's main tourism and transport group which says simplified border processing could slash travel time for millions of passengers.
In a paper out today, the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia says there are nearly seven million passenger journeys a year between Australia and New Zealand and there is need for urgent action to properly manage the impact of travellers, airports, border agencies and airlines.
The report, Fast Forward, says sweeping reforms to streamline transtasman air travel, including immigration pre-clearance at the point of departure, integrated terminals handling both domestic and international flights, and use of the latest screening technology would drastically reduce the time spent in queues, while improving security at the border.
While government agencies, airlines and airports that contributed to the work don't believe a common border is achievable, they did indicate that streamlining the journey through pre-clearance options and initiatives would be positive steps towards a domestic-like travel experience, the report says.
The forum's chief executive Margy Osmond said New Zealand was Australia's closest and most trusted ally and it was time "the onerous and archaic constraints currently in place are relegated to the dustbin of history".
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and tourism groups in this country have also pushed for greater streamlining of border systems.
While political commitment on both sides of the Tasman is cyclical, progress was already being made.
The New Zealand government last year committed funds to a project to maker it easier for "trusted travellers" to cross the Tasman more easily. Australia has done away with departure cards and this is also under discussion in this country.
Osmond said the rate of growth in visitor arrivals was rapidly overtaking the capacity of Australian airports to deal with the higher volumes.
"The answer does not lie in continually building or expanding terminals to absorb the growth. We need to speed up passenger movement through our existing international terminals, and the fastest and smartest way is to remove people from queues who don't need to be there - and the obvious place to start this reform is the market that delivers more visitors to each other than any other, Australia and New Zealand."
Border formalities could be slashed by linking each passenger's travel documentation to facial recognition technology which was already being trialled by Air New Zealand at Brisbane Airport.
The SITA SmartPath system uses biometric data which enables passengers to provide their travel details at a self-service kiosk when they check in then go to an automated boarding gate which uses facial recognition to provide access to the aircraft.
As the system is refined, the opportunity existed to integrate with other systems in order to also provide immigration and border checks.
Known as "Face on the Fly", this system would identify transtasman passengers as they passed various points between baggage check-in and boarding their aircraft, without them needing to stop or produce passports, travel documents or even boarding passes.
"Using information provided before departure this system would also enable the majority of passengers to collect their luggage from a 'domestic-like' reclaim area, and leave without further formalities," she said.
It was hoped the report would stimulate discussion over reform.
• Provide API progressively and earlier to border agencies to facilitate more time for assessment of declarations and improved clearance decisions, ideally at or soon after the completion of check-in, so that pre-clearance decisions can be made prior to departing passengers entering security screening.
• Expedite the development of digital bag tags enabling off-airport registration of baggage so that passengers can arrive at airports "ready to travel".
• Increasingly use automated boarding control with biometric passenger identification and matching of correct flight details, using a SmartGate triggered by the digital token (boarding pass on mobile device, or passport) to streamline passenger processing, achieve highest possible reliability in identification of correct boarding, and to facilitate mixing of domestic and international passengers in integrated/common departure lounges.
• Investigate the terminal facilitation requirements to implement the Full pre- clearance (Flight) and pre-clearance (Passenger) options, particularly facilities and procedures for retrieval of bags (either on departure or arrival) for closer clearance inspections where required.
• Initiate a strategic working group with border agencies and airlines to co-ordinate and progress the various work streams.
• Establish a pilot programme with two airports (one each in Australia and New Zealand) and an airline to trial a pre-clearance option.