Common-border trial in the wings

Christchurch and Gold Coast airports are keen to participate in a common-border trial to stimulate trans-Tasman flights, says Jetstar.
The budget airline's chief executive Bruce Buchanan has been pushing for a common-border arrangement since February, saying making the trans-Tasman route domestic will chop 30 per cent off fares (about A$60 one-way or A$100 return).

The push comes as the Australia and New Zealand governments form closer ties to try to offset significant declines in the tourism sector in both countries.

Tourism Minister John Key indicated last week that an announcement would be made in August on reclasssifying trans-Tasman flights as domestic flights.

Buchanan says a common border will mean faster passenger processing as well as reducing airlines' fixed costs such as security, departure tax and international terminal charges.

Because of the lower costs, airlines will stimulate new markets with sustainable lower pricing, Buchanan says.

Jetstar launches domestic services on June 10 in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, subject to regulatory approval. It is looking to add regional airports Invercargill and Dunedin to its route schedule.

''A common border will change the way Australia and New Zealand see each other. It will stimulate tourism and open up huge opportunities in trade,'' says Buchanan.

Christchurch Airport general manager of operations Geoff Eban says it will take part in any common-border trial for flights across the Tasman as part of its efforts to make the passenger experience as smooth as possible.

''At the moment the biggest impediment is the arrival process.''

If the proposal proceeds, the airport may face reduced revenue from departure tax and terminal fees, but this will be offset by a boost in traffic volumes, says Eban.

Board of Airline Representatives spokesman John Beckett says it is ''fully behind'' moves on a common border. The organisation represents all international carriers and most domestic airlines in New Zealand.

The Australian Customs' national passenger facilitation committee and New Zealand's border-sector governance group are working on streamlining trans-Tasman travel, including proposed trials of automated and non-automated passport checks, and fully and partially cleared flights.

It is also trialling one entry point for clients to fulfil export and import requirements. There are moves at Auckland Airport towards a common-border model, but they are not keen on a full trial.
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Australian-made Smartgate border control kiosks, which are also being evaluated by the New Zealand Customs Service, were on trial at Auckland Airport last year.

This means travellers to Australia do not need to present their passports at a manned customs booth.

Auckland Airport communications spokesman Andrew Pirie says while it is keen on streamlining technology for passport checks, it sees enormous complications with introducing a common border.

''The logistics are really hard. In Australia it's easier because Qantas has its own terminal.

''We have a much more complicated situation with many different flights in the one terminal. It's a question of trying to work out how it would work in practice and how you would segregate passengers when they disembark.''