Airport and airline industry groups back new financial aid

written by Adam Thorn | March 11, 2021
Avalon Airport hangars (wikicommons)

The industry groups representing airports, national airlines and regional aviation have all backed the government’s financial package to replace JobKeeper.

The support of the Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ), Australian Airports Association (AAA) and Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) will be seen as hugely significant given the opposition of unions.

Late on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister revealed the new package of measures for the aviation industry that will include 800,000 half-price airfares to 13 tourism destinations including the Gold Coast, Whitsundays and Merimbula.

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The help will also include cheap loans to small business coming off JobKeeper, wage subsidies for 8,600 international aviation employees and a six-month extension of the ‘RANS’ and ‘DANS’ supplemented routes initiative.

AAA chief executive James Goodwin said, “Anything that can fill seats and put more aircraft in the sky is a good thing and will have flow-on effects for the airport sector.

“It’s been just over a year since COVID-19 hit and during this time, all airports have been doing it extremely tough. They’ve been in major need of support and are grateful the federal government has listened to their calls with this new package.”

However, Goodwin also said the government should focus on getting international borders to open “as quickly as possible”.

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“It’s crucial for the government to start working with industry on a plan to reopen the border so that we can be ready to go,” he added.

A4ANZ called the package a “vital lifeline”, with CEO Dr Alison Roberts adding it recognises that the lack of flying has made it difficult for workers to retain skills.

“While JobKeeper has been a critical part of keeping people engaged and supported, airlines face significant costs to ensure that their planes and workforces are operationally ready, fully-trained, and have current certifications, even while flying is limited,” she said.

Finally, the RAAA said it “welcomes the announcement” of further support.

“The continuation of the Regional Aviation Network Subsidy, in particular, will help support some of our member airlines to continue to allow connectivity with regional centres at a time when the routes would just not be viable.

“The continuation of the Airservices fee waivers and the regional airport screening subsidy will also go a long way to help keep some regional routes viable and the flow of essential medical and freight supplies.”

Both the AAA and A4ANZ said state premiers must also do their bit by resisting border closures.

“Once the half-price airfares go on sale on 1 April, the first phase of the government’s vaccination program should be complete, which means there should be no reason for states and territories to close their borders,” said the AAA’s Goodwin. “In order for this support package to work, the premiers must agree to put an end to these knee-jerk reactions which have resulted in major setbacks for our sector’s recovery.”

Meanwhile, A4ANZ chairman Graeme Samuel said the “lack of consistency” on borders had eroded confidence.

“The announcement of an incentive-based program to stimulate air travel demand and support the broader tourism sector will need to be matched by a unified approach on domestic borders,” said Samuel.

Announcing the measures, PM Scott Morrison said, “This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard. That means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors as Australia heads towards winning our fight against COVID-19 and the ­restrictions that have hurt so many businesses.”

JobKeeper payments are set to end nationwide at the end of March, and the government has previously remained tight-lipped as to exactly what support would follow.

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