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Air NZ introduces ‘test-to-return’ policy for critical staff as Omicron outbreak affects regional services

Air New Zealand says it has agreed with the Government to operate a “test-to-return” policy for critical workers to reduce flight disruptions arising from staff becoming close contacts of Omicron cases.

The airline’s chief operational integrity and safety officer David Morgan said the airline was also reducing its frequency on regional routes because of the impact Omicron in the community was having on staff.

Since January 24 15 Air New Zealand flights have been named as locations of interest, all of which were close contact events, meaning people on those flights, including crew, had to self-isolate for 10 days and get tested.

With Omicron cases increasing in the community, Air New Zealand had cancelled a number of regional flights “to safeguard its network connectivity,” Morgan said.

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“We are sorry for the impact this has on our customers, and we are working hard to continue to keep Kiwis connected,” Morgan said.

In the current circumstances, there would continue to be services available to all regional ports but at a lower frequency, he said.

Auckland International Airport’s departures page was showing 10 Air New Zealand regional departures had been cancelled on Tuesday.

JOHN ANTHONY/Stuff

Auckland International Airport’s departures page was showing 10 Air New Zealand regional departures had been cancelled on Tuesday.

Air New Zealand had agreed with the Government that the airline would operate a “test-to-return” policy that would enable its critical workers who were close contacts to return to work, he said.

This would strengthen Air New Zealand’s “operational resilience”, he said.

“We need to ensure we have our people and aircraft in the right place to ensure operational resilience and can continue to get Kiwis where they need to be.”

Omicron outbreaks overseas have wreaked havoc in the aviation sector internationally with airlines having to cancel flights because crew were needing to isolate due to Covid-19 infection, or being a close contact of a case.

BusinessNZ employment relations specialist Paul Mackay said the “test-to-return” approach had been discussed by a number of companies but Air New Zealand was one of the few that had access to rapid antigen tests to actually make it happen.

“Test to return Is essentially how the process will work going forward now that RATs are coming on stream,” Mackay said

Last week the Government outlined its three stage plan for managing the Omicron outbreak.

In stage one positive Covid-19 cases must isolate for 14 days, and close contacts for 10 days.

In the second stage Covid-19 cases must isolate for 10 days, and close contacts for seven days.

In stage three Covid-19 cases will be able to release themselves from isolation after going 72 hours without symptoms.

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