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Australia's Possible Airline Isolation

Hannah Dowling

September 14, 2021.

Foreign airlines are at risk of exiting the Australian market unless the federal government provides clarity on the reopening of international borders, warns the Australian Airports Association (AAA). It comes as airports have repeatedly been accused of being unprepared for the restart of international flights.

Image - Andrew McLaughlin

The association flagged serious concerns over the industry’s inability to adequately prepare for the impending restart of international flights, presumed to occur within months as the country races towards to the 80 per cent vaccination threshold.

The association argued that airlines need to prepare schedules well in advance, and currently have insufficient information from the government to allow for regular international flights to begin this year.

Image - Singapore Airlines

“Some international carriers are either already drawing down capacity or preparing to withdraw from Australian ports altogether,” the association said, noting this could have a “significant” impact on Australia’s reopening plans. “Given the aviation industry has long [six to 12 months] lead times for carriers and airports to re-establish international routes, significant planning will need to occur now to ensure airports and airlines are ready.”

In its own commentary, Sydney Airport said: “It is crucial Australia remains in the minds of airlines’ network planners, and therefore we need to be outlining what re-opening in Australia looks like now.”

The groups noted that passenger caps currently mean airlines are forced to operate flights at a loss, and the government needs to inform the industry how it plans to navigate both caps and quarantine requirements once the 80 per cent target is hit.

Image - Melbourne Airport

AAA chief executive James Goodwin stated that in light of this, foreign airlines could exit the Australian market for years, as Australia’s reopening lags behind the rest of the world. “If [airlines] don’t know what the rules or protocols will be for Australia eight or nine months from now, we could lose them for 2022. Then we’re looking at 2023,” Goodwin said.

“Even if we are talking about being open the middle of next year, those conversations need to be happening now.

“The reality is when we are ready to open up we may not have as many airlines as we were used to. We may find airfares will be more expensive and we may find we have difficulty getting tourists into Australia.”

Image - Pascal Pavani

The review is expected to be handed to the federal government later this month, and will inform decisions on how quarantine will be handled following the international restart. The news also comes as Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan announced the government has begun trialling its QR digital vaccine passports.

“It’s going to be very difficult to travel without [double vaccination] given most of the airlines are saying you need proof of vaccination and most countries are saying there will be some sort of proof of vaccination,” Minister Tehan told Sky News. “That may change over time, but we want to make sure that we are ready to be able to do it.”

He also raised concerns that Australians could see long wait times for passport renewals ahead of the restart of overseas travel. “The department is doing everything it can to prepare but longer than usual processing times can’t be ruled out … once you’re fully vaccinated, it’s time to dust off your passport and make sure it is still valid,” Minister Tehan said.

© Hannah Dowling / Australian Aviation 2021.

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