Air New Zealand is sending pilots and crew to Vancouver today to charter flights for the German government.

A source close to the operation told BusinessDesk the national carrier will charter 25 flights from Vancouver to Frankfurt in a four-week operation for the German government.

The person said that the first tranche of people involved in the operation - 12 pilots and 12 cabin crew - are scheduled to fly on flight NZ24 - Auckland to Vancouver - which is scheduled to fly at 8.05pm tonight.

The first flight is scheduled to go to Frankfurt on March 28, the source said.


A second source - a pilot - said they received a call last night asking them to go to Canada.

"Rumour is numbers are bigger now. Maybe as much as 35 flights and 13,000 Germans," the source said, welcoming the fact they would have more work for the time being.

Air New Zealand head of corporate affairs Andrew Kirton said the airline was unable to comment on charter flights.

There are 78 new cases of Covid-19, including 73 confirmed cases and five new probable cases, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says. The new cases bring the total number of confirmed or probable infections to 283.

Late yesterday, the airline said it would operate a limited international network from March 30 to May 31 to enable essential travel and keep air freight moving through key cargo corridors to North America and Asia. Overall, international capacity would reduce by 95 per cent from pre-Covid-19 level.

The first source said the airline could use the returning flights from Frankfurt to Vancouver to get Kiwis back home to New Zealand through Canada.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters it was getting harder for the government to bring New Zealanders home.

"Ultimately, we are in a position when, unless there are commercial flights operating, it's almost impossible to bring people home. As you will have heard me say yesterday, the message now is, wherever you are, set yourself up for the time being."

Asked why the government couldn't put on mercy flights in the way Germany has, the prime minister said, "keep in mind we are talking about New Zealanders scattered all over the world and what Germany is doing is looking at several thousand Germans in one place."


"The window for travel has closed not through any fault of the New Zealand government," she added.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters wasn't immediately available to comment.

Air New Zealand today said it continues to work with the government to ensure critical cargo transport lines are maintained and has introduced charter services to every port on its network except London. Its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner can uplift 11 cargo pallets, each weighing up to 4,600 kg, in each direction it flies.

Shares in the airline were up 4 per cent at 90.5 cents this afternoon. Last week it was given a $900 million lifeline by the government last week in the form of loans that may convert to equity.