One of Brisbane Airport’s most senior executives has told a senate committee that the aviation industry could lose a “generation of expertise” if JobKeeper is discontinued in March.
Rachel Crowley, one of the business’ executive general managers, also warned it was a “myth” that the industry was mounting a strong recovery.
“Things are not getting back to normal,” said Crowley. “Airports are absorbing massive losses every day, and we’ve been doing so for close to 12 months.”
JobKeeper payments are set to end nationwide at the end of March, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has remained tight-lipped as to whether it would continue for some affected industries.
Crowley, who oversees communications and public affairs, was speaking to the rural and regional affairs and transport references committee investigating the ‘Future of Australia’s aviation sector, post COVID-19’ on Friday.
Her comments were recently released via a transcript.
“By the end of 2020, our total passenger numbers were down to 8 million, or 33 per cent of pre-COVID levels,” Crowley said. “This included domestic passenger numbers decreasing to 6.7 million from around 17 million in 2019 and international down by 80 per cent.
“During the recent three-day lockdown in greater Brisbane passenger numbers halved again, off an already low base.
“The outlook for 2021 remains very much the same. We all know that international traffic is unlikely to return in any meaningful way until 2022 or beyond and that domestic travel will improve once borders remain consistently open and there is a nationwide predictable approach to managing hotspots.
“Consumer confidence has been badly damaged, as people have found themselves with travel plans cancelled due to closures or rushing to get home to avoid hotel quarantine. Business traffic has also slowed considerably. It may surprise senators to learn that around 20 per cent of passengers on our domestic services at Brisbane Airport prior to COVID were actually international travellers.
“The picture for 2021 is not a rosy one. The question is though: what does that mean for the community and for the economy? We estimate that around 10,000 jobs have been lost or stood down at Brisbane Airport.
“With ongoing domestic border closures and uncertainty around international borders, many of our partners are now likely to make further reductions as JobKeeper comes to an end. Many of these are not jobs that can be easily or quickly stood back up or simply replaced when borders reopen.
“As has been said a number of times this morning, these are roles that require airport security clearance, training currency, and specialist or experts skills. We’re losing a generation of expertise from our industry.”
Crowley was addressing the Senate on the same day as Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka, who said axing JobKeeper for the aviation industry in March would be “devastating”.
Hrdlicka added it might be “impossible” for the business to “bear the financial cost” of operating in a market where borders are opening and closing without warning.
“We cannot predict when it will end,” said Hrdlicka. “We don’t know whether we have two more years to go. We don’t know whether we have two weeks.”
Hrdlicka’s plea was made shortly after an industry open letter was sent to the Prime Minister urging an ‘AviationKeeper’ payment.
It was signed by the businesses Virgin Australia, Menzies, dnata, Gate Gourmet and Swissport and the unions the TWU, ETU, AMWU, ALAEA, FAAA, AWU, VIPA and AFAP.
The JobKeeper package was introduced to provide coronavirus-effected business with an initial $1,500 per employee, per fortnight.
Companies are then legally obliged to pass that payment onto workers in a bid to keep the economy active during the pandemic.
However, the scheme has proved problematic for much of the aviation industry.
Many airport workers, such as those at Newcastle, are locked out of the financial package because their firms are council-owned; while staff at dnata were similarly told they were no longer eligible because their company is owned by a foreign government.