Opening Address to the New Zealand Air Facilitation Committee 50th National Conference

  • Maurice Williamson

I take great pleasure in welcoming you all here today, especially our guests from Australia, and in opening this conference, the 50th national conference, of the New Zealand Air Facilitation Committee.

I understand that the conference used to take as much as three days.

You can now conduct your business in the course of a day, which shows how effective co-operation between industry and border agencies has become. I understand that it is now rare for facilitation problems to require resolution at this national level and I think that is a great advance.

This gathering continues to have an important role to play in support of facilitation at airports. That the Facilitation Conference is now in its 50th year is evidence of the continuing relevance and value of the work it undertakes.

Every improvement in passenger and cargo facilitation has a payback in terms of time and money saved, and New Zealand benefits on each occasion.

Going back in time briefly, the Facilitation Committee has its origins in the development in 1947 of the facilitation annex to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The Annex was designed to establish, as far as practicable, uniform practices at airports around the world.

A central plank of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) facilitation programme is that each contracting state establish airport facilitation committees and a national facilitation committee like this one.

New Zealand, I believe, is known as a 'facilitation-friendly' country. Testament to this is New Zealand's appointment in 1996 to the ICAO Facilitation Panel, comprising 25 countries from ICAO's complement of 185 contracting states.

This membership gives us, like Australia, an opportunity to influence the development of new standards and recommended practices in between the infrequent ICAO Facilitation Division meetings.

Within ICAO, I like to think New Zealand and Australia have a persuasive voice.

New Zealand first advocated advance passenger information through electronic data interchange as long ago as 1988. By 1995, ICAO was able to adopt the various recommendations of New Zealand and Australia, the International Air Transport Association, Airports Council International and others from the wider international community.

Also in 1995, New Zealand and Australia held the line against vigorous international efforts to have ICAO ban the practice of aircraft cabin spraying. As you all know, that is just one of the means of aircraft disinsection, but one that has raised public health concerns.

Not content with just holding the line, and in order to overcome such concerns, New Zealand and Australian quarantine authorities have since developed a new pre-embarkation residual spraying technique and will be working with ICAO, through the Facilitation Panel, and the World Health Organisation to gain its international acceptance.

Every day, New Zealand's borders are under threat from unwanted organisms, drugs and objectionable material. At the same time we must be vigilant against illegal immigration, which is a significant problem worldwide.

This requires a high level of commitment and awareness by border agencies, while ensuring that there is no undue delay to passengers or cargo. It is a responsibility you all share.

The Government recognises the importance of these efforts and it has responded by placing greater emphasis on border control. My colleague the Hon John Luxton, now heads a new portfolio as Minister of Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control. As many of you will be aware, he has recently instigated efforts to combine the current immigration arrival card and customs and quarantine declarations on one form.

Another initiative the Government has taken is the introduction of x-ray machines for quarantine purposes at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Airports.

Since the machines were introduced, they have contributed significantly to the detection of risk items, as part of a suite of measures. The detection rate at our airports has increased from 55% to between 85 and 95%.

While I am on the issue of border control, I know that many of you have an interest in the Government's current review of this area.

As stakeholders, you will have had an opportunity to comment on this process already. You can expect a further opportunity before the Government makes any decisions.

Similarly on the Government's policy to charge for border functions, there has been extensive consultation and officials are continuing to work on aspects of the implementation.

At this stage, I am unable to comment any further as Cabinet is yet to receive recommendations and make a decision. But again I can assure you that further opportunities for stakeholders to comment are to come and I am sure that you will be keen to participate.

Tourism is of interest to us all. Our statisticians have been doing good work in this area and it is now official - tourism is our biggest export earner.

Figures released by my colleague Tourism Minister Lockwood Smith last week show what the tourism industry has been telling us for some time, but has never been able to officially measure.

Total spending by tourists in New Zealand was $9.1 billion in the year ended March 1995, and is likely to have risen since then. Of this figure, $4.3 billion was spent by overseas tourists.

For these overseas tourists their experience at the border is their first impression of New Zealand. You have a vital role in making certain that impression is a positive one.

The Committee and its member organisations have over the years introduced various measures to ensure border security and improve the facilitation process for tourists. Some examples are:

· introducing electronic advance passenger information, electronic cargo clearance and other documentation and process improvements, including physical changes to airport arrival halls;

· introducing the Red and Green channels;

· use of detector dogs and x-rays;

· development of alternatives to cabin spraying which do not delay passengers; and

· more user-friendly duty free shopping. Remember the days when you had to purchase your duty free goods on departure from New Zealand and have them weigh down your luggage for the duration of your trip? Nowadays visitors can purchase duty free goods upon arrival - at excellent prices, and residents can use the buy on departure and collect on arrival option.

I was amazed to learn that when the facilitation committee was formed, arriving "aliens", as they were referred to then, were required to be fingerprinted by the Police. Fifty years on, and with 1.5 million visitor arrivals per annum, that would mean 15 million blackened fingers. I don't know if we have a computer that could cope.

Our tourism industry is also boosted by expansion of international air services to regional airports at Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Queenstown. This is a most welcome development and I commend all those involved in making it possible.

At this point, I would like to take some time on a matter that has implications for all of you here today, namely the Government's strategic planning for implementing its international air transport policy.

International air transport is one of the keys for achieving the Government's objective of developing an open, dynamic and internationally integrated economy.

That is why the Government is continuing to strive for liberal air service agreements that will provide opportunities for the airline industry - and for New Zealand.

New Zealand pursues a policy of increasing the overall benefit to the economy from international air services, through reducing barriers to trade in air services on a reciprocal basis.

We now have 40 bilateral Air Service Agreements in effect and 31 international airlines use the opportunities they create to serve New Zealand.

Our aim is to have in place a framework where those airlines, which meet safety criteria, can determine what services to offer based purely on commercial considerations.

This is pursued both through negotiation of new air service agreements and by reducing the restrictions contained in existing agreements.

There has been significant progress on both fronts.

Earlier this year I signed an agreement with Brunei which contains what are probably the most liberal bilateral arrangements in existence anywhere in the world, providing a model of openness for others to follow.

The growth of airline alliances and the opportunity for code-sharing services which accompanies this has lead to an interest by the airlines in serving markets which would not be viable on an own-aircraft basis.

This is particularly so in the case of services between New Zealand and Europe, where we have recently negotiated eight new Air Services Agreements. We hope one with Italy will be next.

Following confirmation by China that New Zealand has been granted approved tourist destination status, we hope to hold negotiations that would put in place air service arrangements that will allow the airlines to take advantage of this opportunity.

We are also expecting to hold negotiations with Indonesia in the next few months.

And of course Australia continues to occupy a high place on our list of priorities.

The Australian Government has recently announced a liberalisation of its international aviation policy.

This will potentially have flow on effects for us, including, I hope, the opportunity to resolve the important question of beyond rights.

While the system of bilateral agreements remains the underlying framework for international air services, we are also working towards air services liberalisation in regional and multilateral fora.

We are supporting industry moves to have the APEC Leaders' meeting in September give new impetus to work which has already been done by the APEC Transportation Working Group across a range of priority options including market access and freight.

South Pacific aviation ministers from Forum countries will meet in September to consider a report on air services liberalisation. This could eventually lead to phasing in an open aviation market in the region.

Wider still, the World Trade Organisation is a forum in which we are pursuing air services liberalisation on a global scale.

In particular, we are caucusing with like-minded countries to advocate the fuller incorporation of air services within the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The GATS Annex on Air Transport Services provides for a review next year.

I'd like now to talk briefly about cargo issues.

As you all know, international aviation is an important contributor to our export and import trade.

For the year ended March 1999 imports to the value of $6.1 billion and exports valued at $2.9 billion were transported to and from New Zealand by air.

It is important then that documentation requirements for international air cargo take into account the electronic world in which we live.

I am therefore delighted that the international community has now brought into force provisions that enable the use of electronic air cargo waybills.

These provisions are contained in a protocol to the Warsaw Convention relating to air carrier liability.

The protocol seeks to simplify documentation requirements in order to reduce paperwork and business compliance costs.

The old Warsaw Convention required numerous carbon copies of air waybills for each consignment, a waste of time and money for all concerned.

However, the provisions permitting electronic waybills, something that may seem to us so simple and obviously beneficial, took 23 years to come into force internationally.

This long delay was due mainly to the protocol being caught up in disputes over liability issues for passenger injury and death.

I am therefore pleased that agreement has been reached to modernise and consolidate the 70 year old Warsaw Convention itself.

The new Convention is a major advance over the existing regime, particularly in relation to airline liability for passenger injury or death.

To conclude then, may I express my appreciation of the varied role you all play in ensuring the vital flow of passengers and goods across our border. The value of this cannot be understated.

Accordingly, I thank you for the invitation to open this 50th Conference and I wish you well in your discussions today.