New Zealand is looking increasingly isolated as airline capacity cranks up around the world.
Qantas has announced an earlier than expected restart to international flying and, while it's choppy, route growth is picking up around the world.
Figures from airline analysts OAG this past week show capacity inching towards pre-Covid capacity.
"In many markets optimism is now flooding back, even Australia is beginning to plan for a reopening. New Zealand is now increasingly looking isolated both geographically and in response to Covid-19," said OAG analyst John Grant.
There was no detail of the plan to open up New Zealand with the world in the Government's Covid response announcement on Friday, disappointing tourism and airline groups.
The United States and Canada and much of Australia will open up to vaccinated travellers as traffic recovers in much of Europe in spite of Covid numbers surging in Britain and Russia. Singapore is opening up further even though its Covid cases have also increased over the past month.
Through to the end of the year there are forecast to be 3.7 billion trips in the system compared to 3.2 billion in the past year and 5.7 billion in 2019. This indicates "a recovery of sorts" may be under way, OAG says.
In Europe, Eurocontrol is now projecting flight activity could be back at 2019 levels as soon as 2023 after previously projecting this would happen in 2024 at the earliest. British Airways announced last week it is recruiting crew.
Seats are, however, being quickly taken out of the system in big numbers by airlines in response to weak patches of demand and Covid restrictions which are still being imposed suddenly in some countries.
On Friday, Qantas announced a significant return to international flying, the rehiring of crew and the bringing back to service of some of its Airbus A380 aircraft sooner than expected.
In response to the opening up of New South Wales, which has met a 70 per cent double dose vaccination target, Singapore Airlines is also resuming daily services between Sydney and its home base using its flagship A380.
In this country, Air New Zealand will operate some more "red" effectively one-way flights into quarantine-free parts of Australia before Christmas. It will also resume a Sydney to Los Angeles via Auckland service from next month, aimed at Australian travellers who will no longer have to quarantine on their return.
Following the August MIQ failure, at a time when the Government's jab programme had only 22 per cent of eligible Kiwis fully vaccinated, Air New Zealand's domestic operation was severely cut after roaring into life for much of this year when Kiwis travelled around the country in big numbers.
The restrictions have hit every part of the aviation system, with Auckland Airport on Thursday reporting passenger numbers through its terminals were last month less than half those of 1966, the year the airport was opened.
Qantas has said it hopes to resume transtasman flying in December, but this will depend on this country's border settings.
While there was no update on international travel in the "traffic light" system announcement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said just before the Delta outbreak the country would move to new border settings using a risk-based approach.
Board of Airline Representatives executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers said New Zealand's airline sector is experiencing the worst conditions it has faced for the entire pandemic and it was not clear when they would end.
"This is creating deep uncertainty for thousands of people who work in the aviation sector. Clarification is desperately needed from government so the airlines and ground handlers can give their people confidence and know when their cashflows will start to recover."
A government trial programme for business travellers allowing them to self-isolate out of MIQ is going ahead and Sir Ian Taylor has backing for his privately-run scheme.
The Red Roo bounces back
Qantas is resuming flights to London next month (from Darwin) and has already from Sydney to Los Angeles.
Flights from Sydney to Singapore, Bangkok, Phuket, Johannesburg and Fiji will resume ahead of schedule and the resumption of international travel will also allow thousands of Australian-based Qantas and Jetstar staff to return to work.
Like Air New Zealand, Qantas is requiring all international passengers to be fully vaccinated.
Speaking at Flight Centre Corporate's online event, Illuminate, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline was about six months behind the rest of the world but was returning strongly.
"We are in a different space than we were six months ago. I don't think we will be turning back this time."
Originally expected to remain in long-term storage in the Californian desert until the end of 2023, Qantas announced in August that five A380s with upgraded cabins would return from July 2022 to operate Los Angeles and London flights.
This is now being brought forward a further three months, with two of the A380s to commence flights to Los Angeles from April next year.
A further three A380s will return to service from mid-November 2022, with the remaining five expected to return to service by early 2024.
Qantas is also looking to bring forward delivery of three brand new 787-9 aircraft, currently in storage with Boeing, several months earlier than planned as demand increases.
Jetstar will bring the remaining five of its 11 Boeing 787-8s out of storage in Alice Springs over the coming months.
Its domestic network has also been badly hit by travel restrictions.
Pre-Covid, Melbourne-Sydney was the second busiest route in the world, with the group operating up to 58 return services per day, but during the latest lockdowns this got down to as low as one return flight per day for essential travel only.
When the Victorian and NSW borders open, Qantas and Jetstar will operate up to 18 return flights per day, increasing to up to 37 return flights per day by Christmas. Additional capacity will be added on other routes to and from Sydney and Melbourne, as restrictions are lifted by other states and territories.
Joyce said news of reopened borders was the best news in two years.
"It will make a massive difference to thousands of our people who finally get to fly again," he said.
"We know that Australians are keen to get overseas and see friends and family or have a long-awaited holiday, so bringing forward the restart of flights to these popular international destinations will give customers even more options to travel this summer."
Joyce said the airline had maintained for months the key factor in ramping up international flying would be the quarantine requirement.
"The decision by the NSW Government to join many cities from around the world by removing quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers means we're able to add these flights from Sydney much earlier than we would have otherwise."