Border, Transport and Airport agencies collaborate with Airline to support international charter flights to Aitutaki

Border, Transport and Airport agencies collaborate with Airline to support international charter flights to Aitutaki

Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 7 September 2023 - Cook Island border agency representatives, including from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI), travelled to Aitutaki at the end of August with transport, airport, and airline representatives to review international flights clearance processes, regulatory requirements, and airport facilities to support international private charter flights into Aitutaki.

Economic recovery and resilience growth prospects, including for Aitutaki, were the impetus for the collaboration, which saw representatives from Cook Islands Customs, Agriculture Biosecurity, the Ministry of Transport, and Air Rarotonga travel over to Aitutaki the last week of August, to meet with Aitutaki counterparts and undertake a review of international charter flight clearance requests and a site visit of the Aitutaki Airport facilities for international flights processing.

"Secure international borders are important for keeping our people and country safe," said MFAI Border Security Lead, Tereroa Pumati. "The multi-agency and airline scoping mission was important to ensure the continued security of our international borders, as we look to support the growth of international charters to Aitutaki, while taking a pragmatic approach to streamlining flight clearance processing and the Aitutaki airport set-up so it meets the regulations for international airports operations. The perspectives of border officials for such scoping missions are important to ensuring the set-up is regulations compliant, and they support operational safety and effectiveness."

Specific areas reviewed included set-up of processing, privacy, and cordoned areas to uphold international border requirements while ensuring the safety of all persons within the airport vicinity during international flight arrivals.

The mission to Aitutaki, supported by Air Rarotonga, was scheduled to coincide with the arrival of an international charter flight, which Rarotonga-based border officials processed. The mission afforded an opportunity to conduct refresher training for Aitutaki-based border security designated officers. Moving forward, the intention is to empower designated officers, resident in Aitutaki, to process international charter flights alleviating the need to have Rarotonga-based officers fly to Aitutaki for processing duties.

"Due to the infrequent international charter flights direct to Aitutaki, the viable option has been to transport officers from Rarotonga to Aitutaki when required," said MFAI Acting Principal Immigration Officer, Chere Arthur.

"Should there be an increase in international charter flights to Aitutaki, basing border officials in Aitutaki will be explored. The intention is to stagger domestic and international arrivals to Aitutaki to minimise congestion in the terminal and have clear the area for processing of the international charters."

MFAI understands an Airport Authority mission to Aitutaki was undertaken this week for similar reasons, and inter-agency work is ongoing to bed down forward international charter flights to Aitutaki processing arrangements. Involved agencies will continue to work with the airlines to ensure necessary facilitation towards international flights to Aitutaki.

MFAI will also continue to work closely with partner domestic and regional agencies to mitigate against any risks, including as relates to international private charters and small crafts entering the Cook Islands, whether via Rarotonga or Aitutaki.

"It is imperative our international border security arrangements for international flights and shipping are robust," said Arthur. "The nature of our zone, almost two million square kilometres of ocean, with a smattering of two-hundred and fourty square kilometres of land that make up our 15 islands, requires all border agencies to sustain year-long cooperation internally and with regional and international security agencies, who are equipped with monitoring and surveillance capabilities of the evolving risks that are constantly hovering around our international borders.

“MFAI is presently reviewing the terms of reference for the Combined Border Agencies Taskforce active during COVID to ensure it is fit for purpose moving forward, before progressing this to border agencies for consideration."