Melbourne Airport’s 50th birthday turned into a nightmare on Wednesday as government restrictions to stop international passenger flights arriving took effect.
The decision meant two Air New Zealand flights from Auckland (NZ127 and NZ128) were cancelled; as well as a Qatar Airways flight from Doha (QR904). It’s not yet known whether the final flight, Etihad EY469 from Abu Dhabi, will be cancelled or diverted.
The snap decision to halt inbound flights from abroad came after another big day of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne on Tuesday, with 64 cases recorded following the 75 on Monday. The numbers, however, have corresponded with a huge testing blitz in affected suburbs, with numbers in hospital remaining low.
Reports have suggested the sharp increase in cases has resulted from apparent lapses in the hotel quarantine program. Two hotels have been named as a source of the outbreak, Rydges on Swanston in Carlton and the Stamford Plaza in the city centre.
The move has led to the state government ramping up security and cancelling all outside walks – mirroring the more draconian measures long implemented in NSW.
Air New Zealand on Wednesday confirmed it would not operate passenger services from Auckland to Melbourne from 1 July to 14 July, while Emirates has also now suspended Dubai-Melbourne services for the next two weeks.
It’s not known whether other airlines will cancel services or instead try to redirect them, as was the intention of Premier Daniel Andrews.
Meanwhile, NSW, which has previously kept an open border, has moved to ban anyone arriving from a virus hotspot. Those that arrive from one of the affected suburbs in Melbourne now face a fine of $11,000 and a potential jail sentence for six months if they enter the state.
The move will be a blow to the aviation industry, which was gradually beginning to restart interstate travel.
Yesterday, SA put on ice plans to open its borders to NSW, the ACT and Victoria, while Queensland declared it would soon open to all states bar Victoria.
It comes on what should have been a day of celebration for Melbourne Airport, and the industry as a whole.
On 1 July 1970, former prime minister of Australia Sir John Gorton officially opened the airport, with the inaugural Qantas (QF530) flight taking off to San Francisco.
Originally it was built for aviation and leisure, and included a 300-seat cinema, space and science centre, observation deck, shops, cafes and bars.
Over the course of its history, three-quarters of a billion travellers have flown in and out – 600 million domestic and 169 million international.
Chief executive Lyell Strambi said, “When the airport first opened it was iconic for the whole state. It created opportunity for people to reach destinations that they could previously only dream of.
“People didn’t just flock to the airport for flying, they used to dine out at the renowned TopAir restaurant, helmed by a head chef from an international three Michelin star restaurant and featuring sweeping views of the airfield.
“The airport was also a destination for school excursions. I remember the excitement as a young boy in coming to the airport for an excursion, taking a guided tour through the Astrojet center and walking around the most innovative aviation infrastructure, at the time, in Australia.
“Over the years flying became more accessible and to this day the airport has featured in more than three quarters of a billion individual journeys.
“Our continued focus on the traveller experience is what has enabled Melbourne Airport to endure the test of time. We have a strong team, dedicated to the growth of the business and to the continuous planning for the future.
“The airport continues to grow and evolve with Melbourne. It’s ironic that we are celebrating 50 years since the birth of Melbourne Airport, as we get ready for a rebirth of flying activity to begin, post COVID-19. This will go down in history as another seminal moment in the history of Melbourne and its airport.”