Nearly 373 flights arriving or departing from Sydney Airport on Wednesday have been cancelled or withdrawn from service as domestic aviation in Australia grinds to a near halt.
The news follows another dramatic day of COVID developments across the country:
- SA, which has already closed its borders to all of mainland Australia, recorded five new locally acquired cases on Wednesday and asked residents to wear masks while in public;
- Alice Springs has joined Darwin in lockdown after a potentially positive case spent seven hours at Alice Springs Airport;
- Queensland recorded three new COVID cases, with large parts of the state, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast, still in lockdown;
- NSW recorded 22 new cases, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the steady numbers showed fears about a huge escalation hadn’t materialised; and
- Finally, WA recorded another new locally acquired case with Perth in its second day of a snap four-day lockdown.
The new COVID restrictions are likely to cost the industry billions with no JobKeeper payments but with more aircraft and staff stood up than the previous national shutdown in April 2020.
The last time states and territories locked out NSW at Christmas due to the Northern Beaches cluster, it cost Qantas alone $400 million.
In February, Virgin chief executive Jayne Hardlicka told a senate committee that JobKeeper was necessary for dealing with snap border closures. She said losing the payment – which was eventually axed at the end of 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’ve got 3,000 highly skilled workers who are currently stood down and, as borders open, we bring them back in and they get hours, and they’re very happy to be back at work; then, when the borders shut, we have to stand them back down,” said Hrdlicka.
“If we did not have those people stood down and ready to go, it would take us weeks to get people identified to come back in, figure out who’s working and who’s not working and get them back in.
“They would all have to be retrained, in order to meet our regulatory requirements, and the volume of people that we would require, to be able to do that, means it’s months to get stood back up and to get the capacity to support the demand.”
It also follows both Qantas and Virgin significantly increasing their networks and capacity. Earlier this month, Qantas announced it would increase its capacity to 107 per cent of pre-COVID levels and Jetstar to 120 per cent.
Earlier on Wednesday, the TWU has called on the federal government to mandate for all passengers and air crew to take a rapid antigen COVID test before domestic flights.
The union has made the intervention after further Virgin Australia flights were designated as COVID exposure sites on Wednesday.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, “Pre-flight antigen testing would limit the risk of transporting COVID to a breadth of Australian communities, given the greater chance of catching positive cases before passengers or crew board a flight.”