The Government has raised an option of using freight flights to repatriate Kiwis stranded overseas.
Air New Zealand is finalising its schedule for the lockdown period when there will be much reduced flying across its domestic and international networks, meaning the chances for Kiwis still overseas to get home will be even slimmer.
Mfat warns the options for New Zealanders to get home are ''reducing dramatically'' although the Government was exploring all possible options to help them.
• Premium - Grant Bradley: Airlines and coronavirus - Air NZ and flyers hit turbulence
• Premium - Coronavirus: Air New Zealand executives scramble to get airline through crisis
• Premium - Grant Bradley: Coronavirus and Air New Zealand - time for cool heads
• Coronavirus: Some airlines may abandon NZ due to high airport fees, government charges: Board of Airline Representatives
The Government has discussed special repatriation flights and Air New Zealand has done some planning for these.
A new package to ensure high-value freight and pharmaceuticals is still transported includes the possibility of freighters being used for stranded Kiwis.
Today Transport Minister Phil Twyford said $330m of a $600m aviation support package will be allocated to ensure air freight capacity is available on key routes for at least the next six months.
Airlines and freight operators are able to bid for the fund and in a Q and A document with Twyford's release says proposals will address how they could work with the Government to contribute to passenger repatriation along the freight route they provided.
The scheme is proposed to run for at least six months, initially by way of grants, but we are likely to move to other forms of support over that period.
There are dedicated air freight businesses to New Zealand but aircraft such as Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners have considerable cargo capacity - around 18 to 20 tonnes.
Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives, says supporting cargo channels gives airlines an opportunity to keep some valuable infrastructure in place.
"It is important that systems are preserved so that when the Covid-19 crisis is over, the framework is ready to be expanded again for passengers too – and New Zealand's tourism industry," he says.
"Preserving aviation jobs now will assist in the restoration of tourism jobs in the future."
The board's 28 member airlines will be looking closely at the commercial potential of using cargo as retaining a presence in New Zealand, but some airlines have already left the country.
He said others will follow and remaining flights will become fewer as days go by.
The board was advising international visitors to contact their embassies or high commissions to register their location and desire to be included in any flight that can get them home.
Tighe-Umbers said some flights have left with less than the number of passengers they could have taken, even with optimal spacing between people, because some people have just not cancelled pre-booked flights and not turned up.
Some flights had left with less than the number of passengers they could have taken, even with optimal spacing between people, because some people have just not cancelled pre-booked flights and not turned up.
"Airline staff and counter check-in people are under incredible pressure from people keen to get on a flight home," he says. "It is vital that aircraft are correctly loaded, and it is not as simple as putting on a lot of last-minute/standby passengers
Tighe-Umbers says some flights have left with less than the number of passengers they could have taken even with optimal spacing between people, because some people have just not cancelled pre-booked flights and not turned up.
"Airline staff and counter check in people are under incredible pressure from people keen to get on a flight home," he says. "It is vital that aircraft are correctly loaded, and it is not as simple as putting on a lot of last-minute/standby passengers.
Etihad was today the latest airline to announce it was quitting international flying - initially for two weeks from tomorrow. Some New Zealanders use the airline via Australia.
Emirates' last superjumbo A380 flies out of Auckland Airport tonight after it announced it too was suspending international operations for a fortnight and new restrictions on travel and transiting through Hong Kong and Singapore cut off those routes to Kiwis.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will fly just 4 per cent of their combined capacity in April and May. as they reduce passenger flights to a skeleton schedule.
Air NZ's plea
Air New Zealand is urging people not to contact it unless it is for travel within the next 48 hours as it scrambles to get as many people home before midnight tomorrow when stringent travel restrictions are imposed.
''We want to make sure our phone lines and social media channels are best able to assist customers urgently needing to travel,'' the airline says.
It also wants to free up domestic seats from those who no longer want to travel.
''If customers have a booked ticket that they do not intend to use, we would encourage them to cancel this online to free up capacity for those wishing to travel.''
The airline was working through what domestic and international flight schedules would look like when the country is at alert level 4 and would provide an update in the coming days.
It is estimated international aircraft arrivals will decline by 90 per cent over the next six months.
What else has happened today in aviation
• Singapore Airlines will ground 138 of its 147 SIA and SilkAir aircraft and 47 of the 49 planes operated by low-cost offshoot Scoot, cutting capacity by 96 per cent.
• Boeing announced a temporary suspension of production near Seattle due to the outbreak which has hit Washington state hard. A Boeing worker has died from the virus. Out of 70,000 Boeing workers, 25 have confirmed having Covid-19.
• Figures from consultants OAG show more than a third of the world's airline capacity - 37 million seats has been wiped out during the last two and a half months. In the past week 21 million seats dropped out.
• The head of the International Air Transport Association Alexandre de Juniac said airlines can't survive much longer. Around the world emergency aid of up to US$200 billion ($346b) is required, he said.
• Major US airlines are prepping plans for a potential voluntary shutdown of passenger flights across the US if air traffic controller staffing emergencies continue to crop up or demand falls much further, according to The Wall Street Journal.