On January 5 the national carrier issued a media release that said in an effort to reduce the Covid-19 risk to aircrew, Air New Zealand would re-route its North America flights to allow crew to overnight in Honolulu rather than Los Angeles or San Francisco.
All cargo flights between New Zealand and the United States would overnight in Honolulu from January 11 and North America passenger services would be routed via Honolulu from February 2.
However, the layovers have not happened because Air New Zealand wasn’t permitted to complete a technical stop in Honolulu.
The plan had been for flights from New Zealand to make a brief stop in Honolulu to change crew before continuing onto Los Angeles or San Francisco, both deemed high risk destinations by the Ministry of Health.
Aircrew operating into those ports would then remain airside and operate the return flight to Honolulu where there would be a further crew change to operate back to New Zealand.
California has had 3.6 million cases of Covid-19, with Los Angeles currently experiencing nearly 850 cases a day, down from the 13,500 cases a day it was experiencing in early January.
Hawaii has had 27,500 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic with 44 new cases a day on average.
Air New Zealand chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui said Air New Zealand’s plan to operate through Honolulu “encountered blocks” in the final stages of approval which meant the airline wasn’t permitted to complete a “tech stop” in Honolulu.
A risk assessment of operations to California, including independent medical advice, concluded that the controls in place, including PPE, dedicated crew transport, ongoing testing and crew isolation requirements, were effective, and operations to California remained safe for aircrew, she said.
The airline introduced additional measures including mandatory mask use on all flights and the processing of aircrew in a separate facility on arrival to and departure from Los Angeles, she said.
The facility was separate to the Tom Bradley International terminal used for passengers and had further reduced the risk of exposure to Air New Zealand aircrew, she said.
Air New Zealand crew returning to New Zealand from high risk places must self-isolate in a prearranged hotel for 48 hours.
In isolation, they undertake a medical examination and nasopharyngeal test (swab up the nose) for Covid-19.
Once a negative test is returned, they can leave the facility. If a positive test is returned, the worker is transferred to a quarantine facility
E tū’s aviation spokesman Savage, said the airline was not able to follow through on its plans because the Honolulu stop was considered an internal United States service.
As a result it was still flying to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“The risks seem to be lessening slowly as the hospitals are under less pressure and cases slowly dropping,” Savage said.
Air New Zealand currently operates eight cargo and two passenger and cargo services per week between New Zealand and Los Angeles in addition to four cargo services between New Zealand and San Francisco and one cargo service from Australia to North America.
At the time of the layover announcement Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran thanked those who had helped the airline “move so quickly” in re-routing flights, including officials in New Zealand and the United States.