Stranded Kiwis overseas should be able to return home for Christmas and self-isolate from mid-December if they are fully vaccinated and follow testing protocols, says Auckland Airport's chief executive Adrian Littlewood.
He said there was no longer any logic in forcing fully vaccinated New Zealanders with pre-departure testing into quarantine facilities, as the science no longer supported it.
He called on the Government to decide on the matter now, giving the aviation industry time to prepare.
"The Government has stated that vaccinations are our ticket to an unrestricted summer holiday, yet fully vaccinated and tested Kiwis remain stuck offshore, kept apart from family and friends over Christmas," said Littlewood, who steps down this week from the role he's been in for the past nine years.
"Some of our most prominent scientific experts have come out and said this week that the risk they present is low and better use could be made of our scarce MIQ facilities.''
A group of Otago University public health experts this week set out a case for dropping MIQ stays in step with new controls around Auckland border settings. They said given the Covid-19 risk they pose is now typically less than that currently for Aucklanders, there is growing concern about low-risk international arrivals taking up space in MIQ where higher risk Auckland cases could be staying, instead of isolating in unsuitable homes.
The Otago researchers say current MIQ requirements for tested vaccinated travellers have ''become inconsistent and arbitrary" but Te Pūnaha Matatini's Professor Michael Plank said there was still a need to minimise the risk of fresh incursions from overseas.
Littlewood said extra internal protection had come with Air New Zealand announcing a new domestic regime, meaning only fully vaccinated or Covid-19-negative people will be able to fly from mid-December.
"The time has come for the grief and inequity caused by these restrictions to end, allowing Kiwis to return, reunite with their families and isolate at home if they are fully vaccinated with pre-departure testing. The Government needs to make this a priority now."
Littlewood said New Zealand was lagging behind the rest of the developed world with ongoing restrictions for inbound Kiwi travellers.
Citizens in countries like Australia, Canada, the US and the UK are now travelling more freely yet New Zealand remains shut off.
''Australians are going to be able to return home for Christmas in most states with either no isolation or home isolation. Why can't New Zealanders do the same?"
He said the time has also come for the Government to announce when the border will open up in the new year.
"We understand the Government does plan to relax the border restrictions in the new year. They need to provide clarity and say so officially now. If the Government can't make this commitment now as New Zealand approaches 90 per cent fully vaccinated, then when will this be possible?
"You can't just flick a switch and turn back on an international air network,' said Littlewood.
Airlines have said recommissioning an aircraft and preparing its supporting crew from hibernation could take three months. Airlines lock in their flight schedules a long way in advance and planning for late 2022 and early 2023 is happening now right across the industry.
Major foreign airlines have said they need more certainty in order to confirm the timing of their return to New Zealand.
"This could have significant implications for our trading nation and the high-value imports and exports we rely upon.''
It may also create the ongoing need for taxpayer-funded cargo subsidies, which ultimately won't be enough to keep airlines flying here, said Littlewood.
"Our vaccination rates are high and they will continue to climb. We are urging the Government to make a commitment now as to when the border will open up to fully vaccinated travellers with pre-departure testing."
Before the pandemic, 29 international carriers operated passenger services at Auckland Airport. Just 12 remain.
Kiwis could fly to 45 destinations from Auckland prior to the pandemic, now it is only 20.
In September 2019, before the pandemic, 267,804 Kiwis returned to New Zealand but this fell to 7,263 in the same month last year and that number has almost halved in September this year.