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Singapore Airlines exec hints bubble talks yet to begin

written by Adam Thorn | June 25, 2021
A Singapore Airlines A350-900, 9V-SHG msn 309, as shot by Victor Pody
A Singapore Airlines A350-900, 9V-SHG msn 309, as shot by Victor Pody

The new head of Singapore Airlines in Australia has hinted discussions between the airline and the federal government have yet to commence over a potential travel bubble to the city-state.

Regional vice president Louis Arul said while the business is not pressing authorities for a timeline, it is keen to “start a discussion” about what operation measures are necessary for quarantine-free travel.

It comes despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeatedly hinting Singapore will be one of the first countries Australia will open its borders to, given its success in mitigating COVID so far. However, today’s comments will likely lead to criticism the government isn’t undertaking enough forward planning.

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Arul told The Australian that ground handling agents, airports and border authorities “needs to sit down and discuss how we want to manage operations in such a situation”.

He added the routes would be financially viable so long as cargo continues between the two countries.

In April the airline flew 10,764 people to and from Australia, and 12,000 tonnes of freight.

Arul separately told The AFR the Australian government needs a more definite plan on how borders will open.

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“Be it a traffic light system similar to other nations or whatever, Australia needs to explain how it will move forward so that the country’s airports can start putting in place the necessary operational planning framework, which, from Singapore’s experience, takes some time to prepare,” he said.

“Until Australia takes a robust decision on its plan going forward, it’s impossible to implement anything by way of logistics, and international airlines are conscious that time is ticking now.”

A Singapore – Hong Kong travel bubble was due to launch on 26 May but has now been deferred.

Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how Australia’s international border restrictions were likely to be eased via a Europe-style traffic light system that will first be trialled on overseas students.

However, the PM also said any large-scale opening would not happen until the country has a better idea of the spread of variants of COVID-19 and their effectiveness with vaccines.

“The jury is out on that and it will be a while, I think, before the epidemiologists can have greater clarity on that. We have to be ­patient for the evidence and the science,” PM Morrison said.

The federal government’s continued downplaying of any immediate opening to international borders comes days after yet another shift in policy to now prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 60s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply. The British-created jab has been linked to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.

The update comes after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s budget last month hinted borders wouldn’t open until halfway through next year, forcing Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights from 31 October to December.

It also comes after NSW revealed this month it hopes to welcome international students in the next six to eight weeks under a pilot plan set to be rubber-stamped by the federal government.

The state’s Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said the program would see 250 students per fortnight quarantine in student accommodation, rising to 500 per fortnight by the end of the year.

Flights will initially be chartered before transitioning to commercial services.

The move is hugely significant for international aviation given, currently, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of skilled visa holders are allowed to enter Australia.

Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, for which they have to pay up to $3,000.

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