Being able to jump on a small regional flight without the bother of cumbersome security screenings is a typically Kiwi experience. However, following yesterday's Tourism Summit in Wellington, New Zealand's days of laissez faire air security will soon have flown.

Attitudes have changed with international tourists feeling less safe on unscreened planes, and terror incidents being cited as a reason to review the country's lax air security.

Currently passengers on small planes of fewer than 90 seats do not have to go through the arduous process of security screening that larger aircraft or international flights undergo.

However speakers at the summit on Tuesday agreed that it was time for change.


One key stakeholder backing the new screening measures was Wellington Airport CEO Steve Sanderson.

Kaitaia airport: Passengers in New Zealand can currently fly on small planes without security screening. Photo / File
Kaitaia airport: Passengers in New Zealand can currently fly on small planes without security screening. Photo / File

Speaking to Radio ZB, Sanderson said it was "time for New Zealand to step up" and meet the security standards of the rest of the world.

Sanderson said the rule for small aircraft under 90 seats was outdated, calling it at "legacy system" in need of review.

"It would be structurally difficult overnight but the government is looking at it at the moment, and the major airports probably within 12 months could do it properly," he told Mike Hosking.

"It's more of a problem at the tier 2 airports, which are the regional airports".

New Zealand has enjoyed a peaceful reputation and the country's domestic air connections have an excellent record of passenger safety.

However the precedent for tightening up security came in light of terror-related reviews, with Sanderson saying that the incidents of 15 March were "front of mind."

A 2009 incident involving an attempted hijacking of a domestic service from Blenheim to Christchurch was also cited as a reason for reform.


Regional airports are already having new screeing facilities introduced.

The expansion of Invercargill airport included a stepping up of security during upgrades to receive a direct jet service from Auckland.

Sanderson said it was necessary to look at the issue through the eyes of international tourists and "in their eyes it's a security issue."

"For New Zealand our largest export industry is tourism, and we need to make that adjustment for tourists so they feel safe here."