Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), visits New Zealand skies for the first time ever today in a special mission to repatriate Kiwis from the UAE and support important exports from New Zealand.

The special flight was made possible through a concerted effort by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), working closely with the Government of the United Arab Emirates and Etihad Airways with support from Auckland Airport to repatriate 19 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents wishing to return to the country.

The return flight will also facilitate 35 tonnes of critical meat and fresh produce exports from New Zealand to the UAE.

Matthew Hawkins, New Zealand Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said: “We are delighted to see Etihad Airways in New Zealand skies for the first time. The UAE and New Zealand share a strong relationship reaffirmed in a recent phone call between HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

“Air and sea links provide New Zealand with critical connections to the Gulf region and indeed the world, making the UAE our 10th largest trade partner in the world. These connections remain important as we work together in response to COVID19.

“We welcome Etihad to New Zealand and thank Etihad and the Government of the United Arab Emirates for your support bringing home New Zealanders on today’s flight.”

Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport General Manager Aeronautical Commercial, said airport staff had worked with Etihad to smooth the approach for the one-off flight.

“Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve been adapting to work with repatriation services from around the world. This Etihad service assists New Zealand’s key exporters and, most importantly, it helps us get people home.”

Etihad Airways General Manager Australia and New Zealand, Sarah Built, said: “Etihad has never flown into New Zealand before, but in these unprecedented times airlinks are more important than ever – and we know how much people want to get home.

“We’ve worked closely with the team at the New Zealand Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Auckland Airport to make this flight happen and are proud to be bringing Kiwis home and flying out with important exports.

“Even though this is our first time flying our own aircraft to New Zealand, it is a critically important market for Etihad and is in fact our biggest offline market globally, as well as a key trading partner for the UAE, so it is an honour to be able to support the country in returning these guests home and facilitating important global trade for exporters.”

The repatriated passengers will spend 14 days in managed isolation at government-provided facilities before they enter the community.

The Dreamliner was scheduled to land at 7pm on 13th May, and depart at 9pm.