A new batch of government-supplemented repatriation flights will take stranded Australians home from France and Germany in December, the government has confirmed.
The news comes after the ABC reported that stranded expats in those countries had received emails informing them that there would be a limited seats available on flights.
“There are more to follow over the coming weeks from both New Delhi, London and other locations,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday. It is not known how many flights will be on offer or the capacity.
Currently, 36,000 Australians have formally registered to come back, but the industry body representing international airlines estimates the number could be as high as 100,000.
On Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told a Senate committee it was “working through the logistics” of scheduling more flights to return Australians home.
“We haven’t yet announced from where they will come but they will be announced shortly,” DFAT’s Tony Sheehan said. “And we will have some further flights scheduled immediately after Christmas.”
The final repatriation flight from India is also due to depart from New Delhi at 6pm on Friday, after the penultimate third flight landed in Darwin on Monday.
Around 180 passengers are now undertaking 14 days of isolation at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
The government-supplemented London-Darwin flights were made possible after the federal government increased the capacity of the NT’s quarantine facility.
The use of the Howard Springs facility essentially adds another 250 spaces per week onto the nation’s controversial arrival caps, which stand at slightly over 6,000.
Critics have argued the arrival caps have hindered Australians’ ability to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices. Restrictions were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how the industry body representing international carriers said most airlines stopped selling tickets to stranded Australians “months ago” due to the country’s international arrival caps.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) has predicted that more than 10,000 of those who have registered to return will be left overseas by the end of 2020 – with the actual number attempting to get back far higher.
“There have been welcome increases in the total permitted arrivals each week, including the planned initial re-opening of Melbourne Airport, bringing permitted arrivals into the major capital city airports to about 6,000 per week from early December,” said the organisation in a statement. “It is not enough, however, to meet the demand that exists.”
BARA, which has made numerous interventions over the last few months, said official waiting lists don’t tell the whole picture of how many Australians are stranded abroad. It has previously estimated the actual figure to be as high as 100,000.
“The number of Australians overseas seeking to return home before the end of 2020 but now without an option to do so far exceeds the immediate waiting list of at least 10,000,” BARA said.
“This is because to meet the tight international passenger arrival caps, which were implemented with very short notice, many international airlines were forced to stop selling tickets some months ago.
“This means that the estimated immediate waiting list of 10,000 Australians overseas after airlines have booked flights to the permitted caps, does not include those who have been unable to book a ticket or join a waiting list”
The industry group again called for Australia to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when more domestic borders reopen.
“Based on the data available to BARA, the re-opening of domestic borders could permit an additional 2,000 international arrivals each week through the reallocation of domestic quarantine capacity to international arrivals,” said executive director Barry Abrams.