International airlines have argued Australia’s arrival caps have made flying so unprofitable that they are now halting trips altogether – meaning even fewer stranded Aussies are coming home than the restrictions allow.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) suggested on Wednesday the solution is to both increase capacity in hotels and allow flexibility on quarantine for those who arrive from areas with less COVID-19 cases.
The industry body’s new intervention comes days after it announced it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system wasn’t relaxed.
The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and were extended again last Friday.
However, many have blamed the system for reducing availability and hugely increasing the cost of flights.
BARA’s airlines provide 90 per cent of all international passenger flights to and from Australia, and notable members include Qantas, Virgin, Qatar, Singapore, Etihad and Emirates.
Executive director Barry Abrams said, “At Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide airports, the small weekly caps (500–525 passengers) can be commercially unviable for international airlines, especially as this small number is intended to be spread out evenly across the week.
“So it’s to be expected these quotas aren’t being routinely filled, such that some international airlines will suspend their small number of flights into these airports, further reducing the options available for Australians to return home.”
Abrams urged Australia’s government to review the policy that saw all Australians forced to undergo 14-day hotel quarantine regardless of the location they returned from. He cited the example of Australians returning from New Zealand even when they reported no cases for months.
“A transparent framework for assessing risk and how to reduce it would make conditions clearer and more certain for passengers and industry,” he argued.
“If risk mitigation options other than mandatory quarantine were acceptable for Australians returning from some countries, this would free up quarantine capacity for passengers returning from countries where COVID-19 risks are higher.”
Last week, BARA said it estimates the actual number of Australians abroad wanting to come back is as high as 100,000, and not just the 19,000 who have registered with the government.
“Based on the current ability to return less than 4,000 Australians per week, often at only 30 passengers per flight, it would take some six months to cover 100,000 Australians overseas,” said Abrams. “If the current tight international arrival caps continue, it could be some people will be unable to return home before the end of 2020.”