International flights end, for now

Virgin flight VA9552, bound for Brisbane, takes off from Queenstown Airport just after 5pm on Saturday with a small number of Australian citizens on board. It will be the last international flight from Queenstown for at least three months. PHOTO: TRACEY ROXBURGH

A single passenger came through Queenstown Airport’s arrival doors at 4.35pm on Saturday, under police escort, and walked to a waiting car.

The man was the last international arrival, on a repatriation flight from Brisbane operated by Virgin Airlines, Queenstown Airport will welcome for at least three months.

Inside the airport, Southern District Health Board staff were on hand working with Queenstown Airport, border agencies and police to ensure the protocols for the international arrival and Covid-19 Alert Level 4 were followed.

Almost 30 minutes later, the return service to Brisbane took off from the airport with a small number of Australian citizens on board.

It signalled the closure of the airport’s international terminal and it would not reopen until international flights resume.

Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) chief executive Colin Keel said domestic services would continue only for “essential services travel”.

Mr Keel said once New Zealand moved to Alert Level 3 last Monday, airport tenants — retailers, cafes, and rental car providers — had closed down “for the foreseeable future”.

“Supporting our airport community has been an immediate priority for QAC and we have already put in place a significant relief programme to support the businesses operating at our airports.

“Since Thursday, when we moved to an Alert Level 4 lockdown, we have been operating in our Civil Defence lifeline capacity.

“The airlines have been providing essential travel so that Kiwis can get home, and overseas travellers can meet onward connections.”

Terminal access was now also restricted to only those travelling and operations were restricted to transporting essential services passengers, freight services and biosecurity checks, which meant a limited number of staff from the airport, border agencies, Aviation Security and Air New Zealand would be working when required.

“Given the significant impact of Covid-19 on QAC’s operating conditions, our focus is on supporting our team and the wider airport communities as well as stabilising the business and preserving its ability to recover,” Mr Keel said.

“It’s certainly been an unsettling few weeks for all of us in the Southern Lakes region as the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation and tourism sectors as well as the global economy has hit home.

“While we are facing many challenges, we are facing them together as a community.

“It’s been incredibly heartening to see the way the many people working across both Queenstown and Wanaka airports have come together to look after our customers and each other.

“We are all in this together and together we will get through this difficult time.”

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