Aviation is facing the prospect of imminent mass stand-downs after multiple news organisations reported on Thursday afternoon that Victoria will join NSW in lockdown.
It comes after Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said this week current border closures and restrictions had closed 80 per cent of his business, while the TWU told Australian Aviation earlier this month stand-downs would be inevitable if restrictions increased.
On Thursday afternoon, news outlets including the Herald Sun and ABC reported a snap lockdown of Victoria will be announced later today, with state leaders currently meeting to discuss its length.
It comes after cases in the state rose to 16, including residents who visited an AFL match between Geelong and Carlton at the MCG last Saturday. Already 1500 primary close contacts have been asked to fully isolate.
The lockdown, Victoria’s fifth, will reportedly begin at midnight tonight and would see what remains of domestic aviation ground to a near-total halt with NSW now three weeks into its own lockdown.
Data from FlightRadar24 reveals that on Tuesday just 76 flights departed Sydney Airport, down from 270 on 18 June. Meanwhile, in Melbourne on Wednesday, only 144 of 260 scheduled flights took off. That was in itself a slight improvement of the recent low of 74 recorded on 19 June.
It will mark the first time since the start of the pandemic that both Victoria and NSW have been in lockdown at the same time.
Earlier this week, Rex deputy chairman John Sharp became the first major Australian airline chief to publicly call for the government to provide more assistance.
In an interview with US news channel CNBC, he said, “If we don’t do something for airlines, there won’t be too many left at the end of this.
“It’s devastating to see the impact. It’s really knocked out the vast majority of our business.
“We’ll lose revenue and we’ll have people we’ll have to pay people who we can’t generate income from. We’re back to where we were at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
“Unless government are prepared to assist business, a lot of business will close. If this NSW lockdown continues for any length of time, it’s been suggested it could be for up to six weeks, government assistance will be needed.
“Governments have to start floating people’s boats again. If governments want to keep an industry alive, they’re going to have to help us. No airline can keep paying people when you don’t generate the revenue to keep employing them.”
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told Australian Aviation recently that businesses had so far kept workers active but the situation would “inevitably” change if restrictions rumbled on.
“People are currently working on ordinary hours,” said Kaine. “But for many in aviation, that itself is hard because they’re not getting the overtime and overnight allowances that they’ve become accustomed to.
“Clearly, casuals and part-timers will be used as a minimum, so they’re already suffering.
“But in terms of stand down, they haven’t been triggered yet. We had some pre-meetings with companies, which we are working with to attempt to avoid that.
“But it’s going to be an inevitability, particularly if the New South Wales situation doesn’t improve.”
Kaine said there are already calls in a couple of companies for staff to take unpaid leave.
“That means workers are going to be left to the vagaries of any potential social security system with no dedicated aviation payment,” he added.
When states and territories locked out NSW at Christmas due to the Northern Beaches cluster, it cost Qantas alone $400 million.