New Zealand's pilots and air crew are worried rigorous isolation and stand-down rules could lead to staff shortages and flight cancellations.
Air New Zealand has laid off about 300 jet pilots but those on routes to China and the United States are facing increased restrictions. New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) president Andrew Ridling said discussions were being held with the Ministry of Health about how to make increased isolation time workable to prevent flight cancellations because of staff unavailability.
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Ridling said they were developing ways to make the restrictions work as they continue to undertake freight and passenger operations globally.
While offshore, aircrew are already isolated in their hotel rooms. They wore personal protective equipment (PPE) when transiting from the aircraft to the hotel in secure transport.
"All food is either brought from New Zealand or ordered through contactless delivery," Ridling said.
The Ministry has already undertaken a risk analysis on Air New Zealand, specifically on operations into Los Angeles Airport.
"However, with the indefinite nature of the current pandemic, we are discussing with the ministry what can be done to curb the impacts of these severe restrictions on the lives of both the pilots, air crews and their families," Ridling says.
Ridling, a Boeing 787 captain, said pilots were helping keep vital supply lines open, and were already doing so under difficult conditions while on layovers.
"Our members have significant concerns about how enduring strict conditions offshore then returning into isolation, only to repeat the process again, can be sustainable. This is concerning not just for staff wellbeing, but also for an airline in recovery mode with a considerably downsized number of pilots.
"We are worried that, with increased restrictions at our borders, this ultimately will have a detrimental effect on pilots, crew and their families, and also on New Zealand's exports, international trade, and our urgent need to repatriate and bring our Kiwis home."
Thirty Air NZ staff tested positive for Covid-19 early in the pandemic before more stringent testing, PPE gear and restrictions were in place. All had recovered.
Ridling said the success of the stringent restrictions at international destinations and onboard was evident, specifically in the US and China, as no Air New Zealand crew member have contracted the virus since the measures were put in place.
"Other measures will also be discussed to minimise any transmission risk, especially as we continue the important task of repatriating passengers, keeping trade links open, and ensuring the retention of jobs with our national carrier," Ridling said.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said today that crew on international flights are unjustly being singled out as targets of fear about Covid-19 coming into the country.