Air NZ hiring 115 more crew as it braces for tougher border requirements

Air New Zealand is rehiring an additional 115 Airbus A320 crew on fixed term contracts after the Ministry of Health asked the airline to prepare for tighter border requirements.

The news comes swiftly after the airline confirmed that 40 long haul crew were last week recalled on fixed term contracts to accommodate changes to its international schedule, including new layover protocols for North American flights.

The recruitment drive is in addition to 175 narrowbody cabin crew being recalled from furlough in preparation for Tasman and Cook Island travel bubbles, and the hiring of regional cabin crew on fixed term contracts in four centres.

Over the past nine months the airline let go of more than 4000 staff and downsized by a third as it navigated headwinds created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Air New Zealand general manager cabin crew Leeanne Langridge said the Ministry of Health asked the airline to consider additional options for international air crew in the event that border requirements may need to tighten or overseas destinations move to a higher risk category due to rapidly increasing Covid-19 cases.

In light of increasing Covid-19 cases in California, Air New Zealand will begin rerouting its North America flights through Honolulu as it offers a safer layover for aircrew.

“This change and the potential of further border measures means we have a temporary shortfall of crew for long haul operations,” Langridge said.

When the airline contacted redundant cabin crew to fill the 115 fixed term roles, it received more than 400 applications, she said.

“We are delighted to bring back our cabin crew, and we know they are all thrilled to be coming back into the job they love,” Langridge said.

E tū aviation spokesman Savage said the union and cabin crew leaders were told several days ago that the temporary positions were in expectation that the Ministry of Health may need to tighten border requirements for returning air crew.

“In particular the possibility that crew might be required to quarantine in hotels while awaiting test results and that this may apply to destinations like Shanghai as well as LA.”

If this were to happen it would have a flow on effect for the airline’s February flight schedule and subsequent crew rosters, he said.

New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14-day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions, both in flight and during layovers.

Air crew returning to New Zealand from higher risk places overseas, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, face additional measures, such as self-isolation for 48 hours.

Overseas-based air crew are required to stay in a managed isolation facility and self-isolate for the duration of their layover while in New Zealand.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman would not say whether returning New Zealand crew in future would be required to stay in managed isolation and quarantine facilities while awaiting test results.

She said the Government was constantly adjusting its border settings to reflect new information, its knowledge of how the virus worked and operational experience.

It needed to balance maintaining health requirements with minimising economic impact and operational efficiency, she said.

“We also need to be cognisant of the impact on workers and continue to work with Air New Zealand on the most appropriate options for their NZ-based international aircrew.

“The Ministry continues to assess the risk of all flight routes as Covid continues to evolve and impact the world.”

Savage said cabin crew were hopeful that rehiring at Air New Zealand would continue and that any temporary jobs would become permanent positions.

For 787 crew however, the issue was whether the company was following re-employment protocols set out in its agreement, he said.

Discussions about this were underway prior to Christmas but the talks had not concluded and the company had gone ahead without reaching agreement with the union, he said.

“Cabin crew want our national carrier to succeed but the airline has made a number of missteps since the pandemic began,” Savage said.

“Talks will continue but ensuring the airline remains on the right track may require crew to taking the matter to the employment authority to ensure employment standards do not fall victim to further management mistakes”

Langridge said Air New Zealand was committed to rehiring crew in an open and transparent way and in accordance with collective agreements.

“We continue to engage with both unions representing crew, and we are recalling crew based on their skills, knowledge and experience.”