Passengers would likely be compelled to undergo rapid COVID-19 tests before and after flights when overseas travel returns. Tracking and tracing will also have to be “significantly improved".

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran says quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to resume for at least another six months, bursting hopes of a proposed "trans-Tasman bubble" opening before March next year.

The airline boss also says eliminating COVID-19 – something New Zealand was lauded for achieving in June before it was hit with a second wave of infections – was no longer a realistic goal, and that countries need to learn to live with the virus.

"I never got to experience Air New Zealand in anything but a crisis," says Foran in his first major interview with an Australian publication. 

Air New Zealand has been hit especially hard because it makes two-thirds of its earnings from international flying, which will remain shut off long after domestic travel has returned. That compares to one-third at Qantas.

The airline has laid off 4100 of its 12,500 employees since February with another 385 cabin crew jobs on the chopping block. And after falling to its first financial loss since 2002 – $NZ454 million ($416 million) in the red – it is tapping into a $NZ900 million loan from the New Zealand government, which owns 52 per cent of its dual NZX- and ASX-listed shares.

Those shares have fallen 56 per cent since the start of the year, to $1.24, while Qantas’ are down only 44 per cent.

The big question for all airlines is when they can start flying again, where to and who will want to step onboard. A month ago Foran said it would take at least until 2023 for demand to recover to pre-COVID levels but now says the outlook is less certain. That's because while vaccines will likely start to roll out from the end of this year, they will not be 100 per cent effective - perhaps only 50 per cent, he says - while distributing them around the globe will take years. Even then, not everyone will get the jab.

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