Government Revokes Rules and Funding for Aircrew Isolation

The government is pulling funding for Air New Zealand’s five-star isolation hotel – a facility pilots believe is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.

After Stuff enquired about how much money was being spent on the hotel dedicated to airline isolation, the government responded by saying it is going to stop funding isolation at the Grand Winsor for aircrews.

However, the pilot’s union is calling for more to be done and an end to mandatory isolation for aircrew.

Andrew Ridling, president of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ association, thinks it is ridiculous crews travelling to the US must still isolate.

He said isolation is having psychological impacts on the crew, for some have spent more than 100 days in self-isolation since the pandemic began.

For months, crews on ‘high-risk’ routes have been required to self-isolate until they provide a negative Covid-19 test.

Earlier on, the crews could isolate at home or at a hotel near Auckland Airport. However, once the mandatory hotel isolation was enforced, the airport hotel ran out of room.

As a result, AirNZ contracted all 79 rooms of the Grand Windsor for isolation for all international aircrew members, including pilots and flight attendants, until they tested negative.

The government has been funding the cost of the hotel, tallying up nearly $2m. After questions from Stuff, an MIQ spokeswoman said the government would stop funding AirNZ stays at the Grand Windsor from June 30.

Last month, health officials recommended Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins remove the mandatory isolation for crews on American routes due to high vaccinations in both aircrews and the US.

Ridling cited a Los Angeles report that confirms nearly three-quarters of San Francisco is vaccinated. He said the constant hotel isolation is significant impacting crews working the Los Angeles and San Francisco routes.

Now, in a new message to Stuff, AirNZ management confirmed that from June 30, vaccinated aircrew operating the high-risk routes in the US will no longer have to isolate until they prove negative on return.

The announcement specifically states that the exemption applies to any fully Covid-19-vaccinated crew that has operated on a ‘higher-risk’ route.

Unvaccinated crews will still have to self-isolate and test upon return. It is important to note that the Ministry of Health has deemed all routes longer than six hours as ‘higher-risk’, with the exemption of Quarantine Free routes. This means unvaccinated crews on all long-haul flights, not just San Francisco and Los Angeles, must self-isolate and test.

The government is yet to announce the changes themselves.