By Karina Cooper
After Friday's snap lockdown was announced aviation security hastily came north to support Northland's airports - but it was minutes too slow to stop an alleged airborne border breach.
Police are now investigating how a man was able to travel from Whangārei Airport to Queenstown via Wellington on Saturday without any of the travel documents required under alert level 3.
He reportedly caught the first commercial flight out of Whangārei on Saturday at 12.25pm before The Aviation Security Service arrived in the terminal around 15 minutes later.
He then stayed overnight at a hotel near Wellington Airport before catching a morning flight to Queenstown.
The man has since returned a negative Covid test, and police were currently supporting the Ministry of Health to trace his movements.
The Aviation Security Service sent three teams of officers from Auckland to assist at Whangārei and Kerikeri airports – as well as further south in Hamilton – after the shift to alert level 3.
Their highly visible role was a combination of monitoring and ensuring travellers had the correct paperwork and evidence required for permitted travel under current restrictions.
Whangārei District Airport manager Michael Chubb said four security officers were stationed in the terminal screening passengers.
Unfortunately, when they landed on Saturday the man police are investigating had already checked in, undergone security and potentially boarded the plane.
Officers were already at the airport by the time the security arrived, Chubb said.
He confirmed that no screening had previously been in place at Whangārei Airport because it wasn't required under alert level 2.
There had been talk of screening at Northland airports but it was deemed unwarranted, given the low passenger numbers.
"Plus, all our flights were going through Auckland at that stage, a level three terminal, where people weren't allowed to leave and they had processes in place," Chubb said.
Alarms would be raised when a passenger from a Northland terminal failed to catch a connecting flight in Auckland.
Chubb said he didn't know if the man deliberately broke the rules. It was reasonable that he didn't think about the consequences the prior evening's Government announcement would have on his flights.
"He could have bought the tickets months ago and just not even thought about it, who knows...I can see that happening to lots of people when everything happens that quick."
Chubb said he'd received several emails asking for clarification around the travel rules for flights.
Since Saturday, a tight security operation has been in place at Whangārei Airport, with passenger and document checks at the entrance.
Chubb said two flights continued to operate to help clear the backlog of travellers needing to return home, given that many were away for school holidays.
"We've got about 10 cars in the car park now, whereas on Friday night there were about 60 to 70."