A flight filled with hundreds of fruit industry workers is winging its way to Samoa as seasonal workers stranded because of Covid-19 finally return to their Pacific homes.
Air New Zealand today announced the first of two dedicated charter flights for Recognised Seasonal Employees had left Auckland this morning bound for Samoa.
The flight, carrying 300 workers, departed just before 9am and was expected to touch down in Apia 1.40pm local time.
A second repatriation flight for seasonal workers was due to leave Auckland in a fortnight's time.
The airline said it had been working closely with New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc, the largest employer of Samoan seasonal workers in the country, which had been coordinating the return of workers employed by several orchards across New Zealand.
Air New Zealand received approval from the Samoan Government to operate today's flight, and for one on July 31.
They were in addition to the fortnightly repatriation flights the airline has been making between Auckland and Apia since the end of May.
Those on today's plane had worked on orchards in Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, Gisborne, Martinborough and Bay of Plenty.
The chairman of Samoa's National Emergency Operations Committee, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, said the workers were being brought home as they had contracts cut short because of the pandemic.
On top of this most seasonal work contracts were only available during summer months.
Air New Zealand's Country Manager Samoa Karen Gatt said the airline was pleased to support New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc with help from the Samoan and New Zealand governments.
"We're happy to play a part in returning workers home to Samoa via these two dedicated services between Auckland and Apia. We will also continue to offer seats to seasonal workers on our fortnightly scheduled repatriation flights which are currently approved to operate to the end of September."
New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc trade strategy and policy manager Gary Jones said the relationship between Samoa and the New Zealand pipfruit industry was deep and personal.
"We are family, and when regional leaders in Samoa asked our industry and the Samoan Government to bring seasonal workers home safely, we responded immediately. We're working closely with Recognised Seasonal Employers across New Zealand and Air New Zealand to ensure their workers from across New Zealand are able to get home."