The Deputy Prime Minister spoke to both Qantas and Virgin over the Easter weekend about the possibility of the government subsidising a number of domestic flights to maintain air links between capital cities.
Michael McCormack told the ABC that while he wouldn’t put a figure on how much money could be made available, he “wouldn’t rule anything out”.
In the last few days, reports have emerged of Australians arriving back in the country, completing their 14-day hotel isolation, but then struggling to find flights across states to return home.
Speaking on television on Monday morning, McCormack said, “We need of course to transfer people around from capital city to capital city. We’ll be looking at what we can do in conjunction with the airlines, who are co-operative.”
The intervention came after Virgin Australia Group announced it was suspending all domestic services from 10 April, except one return flight between Sydney and Melbourne.
Previously, the airline had reduced domestic capacity by 90 per cent, flying to just 19 destinations, and cancelled all international journeys due to the coronavirus crisis.
The business said in a statement, “As a result of government restrictions, less people are travelling and we have made changes to our schedules to reflect this.
“We continue to operate a daily service between Melbourne and Sydney, provide cargo transport locally and overseas, and operate charter flights including assisting the government in bringing Australians home.”
Qantas has yet to make a recent update to its domestic schedule, but said on 19 March that it would cut 60 per cent of its capacity. It insisted that this would come from a reduction in flight frequency, rather than cancellation of routes outright.
While both airlines have suspended their normal international network, they are still committed to flying a handful of repatriation flights, part-funded by the government, from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland.
The services will run during April and include freight capacity for imports and exports.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said on 6 April, “Many Australians will be able to get to one of these four destinations. They can do so knowing there will be an Australian airline to get them home.
“Where there are no commercial options available, the government will consider supporting, on a case-by-case basis, non-scheduled services to other overseas destinations.”
With many of those flights likely to land in Sydney or Melbourne, there is now a need from regular flights between capital cities to get Australians to their home.
The government has previously announced $715 million in support for airlines in the form of waived fees and levies plus another $298 million for regional carriers.