The industry body representing international airlines said 18,000 Australians will be removed from flights due to the country’s arrival caps reducing from 6,070 to 3,035 per week.
“That’s just the maths,” said Barry Abrams, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia.
“All of them will have legitimate and genuine reasons why they can return on those flights; it will be a very stressful situation for everybody.”
Abrams also told The Sydney Morning Herald the reduction meant airlines were operating in “really difficult circumstance.
It comes a day after he hinted airlines would start reducing flights and said many members may switch to only operating freight flights as it becomes harder to justify the cost of crew and catering.
On Monday, Australian Aviation revealed how the change meant one-way flights between London and Sydney are now selling for more than $43,000.
to 3,035 per week from 14 July has caused the already limited commercial flights to often sell for likely the highest prices in history.
On Tuesday, 15 July, a one-way flight from the UK to the NSW capital costs $43,367 for a 44-hour journey. The package, sold by GotoGate, includes flights on Air Moldova and Etihad.
While this is the highest ticket price seen so far, flights are regularly appearing at north of $30,000.
On Tuesday, 20 July, one Etihad flight costs $10,173 but involves a 50-hour journey.
Prices from other major capitals to Sydney are similarly high: New York regularly costs $20,000, Paris $30,000 and Tokyo $15,000.
More than 34,000 Australians abroad are currently registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to return home, although more than 300,000 citizens and residents made it back since the start of the COVID crisis.
The developments come after the national cabinet agreed on a pathway out of the COVID pandemic that meant international arrivals would reduce by 50 per cent.
However, the federal government promised to fund more Qantas 787 repatriation flights to compensate.
They also promised a trial of swapping hotel quarantine for one-week home isolation for the vaccinated.
The new “pathway” out of the COVID pandemic, agreed by state and federal leaders, will see four “phases” of response until life returns to normal.
During the current phase one focused on vaccinating, preparing and planning, arrival caps will reduce by 50 per cent from 6,070 passengers a week to just 3,035.
The change will come into effect by 14 July but will be introduced at the same time as increased Qantas repatriation flights to the Howard Springs quarantine centre in Darwin. That increase will seemingly be in addition to the 100 new Qantas repatriation flights announced in May.
The flag carrier has been using its 787 Dreamliners for the missions, which have a capacity to carry around 170 passengers each. The expansion, set to roll out over “the coming months”, coincides with the Howard Springs quarantine facility planning to double its capacity, from 850 to 2,000 per fortnight
The arrival caps will then return to their current levels in phase two, with larger caps for vaccinated travellers.
Phase two will begin when a specific target of vaccinations has been reached, which will be decided by “scientific evidence”.
In this phase, lockdowns will only be used in extreme circumstances and vaccinated citizens will face eased restrictions. More students and skilled migrants will likely be welcomed, too.
In the third phase, the virus will be managed like another infectious disease and phase four would see the country return to normality.
Arrival caps were introduced in July 2020 and initially sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021, before finally returning to more than 6,000 early this year.
The new caps are likely to be:
Sydney to reduce from 3,010 passengers per week to 1,505;
Perth 530 to 265;
Adelaide 530 to 265;
Melbourne 1,000 to 500;
Brisbane 1,000 (plus 300 surge capacity) to 500 (plus 150 surge capacity);
The current total of 6,070 will reduce to 3,035.