International airlines have urged NSW to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when the NSW-Victoria border reopens to allow more stranded Australians to return home.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) also said an apparent delay in telling its members what the latest arrival caps are has caused flights to be cancelled and capacity to be reduced.
The ‘arrival cap’ 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 have been extended multiple times.
Critics have argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
Despite the ‘cap’ lifting from 4,000 to 6,000 and a special use of the Howard Springs facility being green-lit last week, BARA is urging states and the federal government to do more to raise the limits.
The organisation has previously estimated more than 100,000 Australians are stranded abroad looking to return home, with 30,000 alone in London.
“BARA understands that at present, each week some 1,600 people undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine when they enter New South Wales from Victoria,” said BARA in a statement. “If, when the requirements on arrivals from Victoria are eased, this domestic quarantine capacity were allocated to international flights, it would make a big difference.
“Expanding the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone into all Australian states and territories and a regulatory framework that permits the commercial provision of quarantine services would also benefit Australians stranded overseas.
“Some 20 flights from NZ have been arriving in Brisbane each month carrying about 500 passengers who go into quarantine. That number could now go to Australians stranded in other overseas countries if the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone was expanded to Queensland.”
BARA also claimed its member airlines were only told today about their updated per flight passenger caps to apply from 25 October to 21 November.
“This is unacceptable given the problems it is creating for international airlines in meeting the arrival caps,” said BARA executive director Barry Abrams. “One airline has informed BARA that it has been forced to cancel its planned flight for 25 October because it has been told too late how many passengers it could carry on the flight.
“The allocation of the next international passenger arrival caps to apply from 22 November must occur well before this date to allow international airlines to better support Australians stranded overseas.”
Finally, BARA said the decision to increase capacity using the Howard Springs facility was “important” and a “welcome addition to the existing international passenger arrival caps”.
Earlier this week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian hinted her state’s border to Victoria could reopen in a month if case numbers remain low.
“I would suspect it will be at least a fortnight after restrictions have been eased substantially to be able to assess how safe it is for us to open that border,” said Premier Berejiklian, seemingly referring to the Victoria’s 2 November date for reopening shops.
“We are very keen to see what happens in Victoria once further restrictions are eased because that’s the real test.”