The number of aircraft arriving and departing from Sydney Airport on Wednesday finally hit the same lows as the corresponding date in 2020.
It marks the first time the numbers have dropped to the levels last seen at the darkest points last year, but comes when there is now no nationwide JobKeeper payment for those stood down.
Analysis by Australian Aviation of data from tracking website Flight Aware shows that 231 aircraft took off or landed on 15 July 2021, compared with 226 on the same date in 2020, on a seven-day rolling average.
Overall flight activity is now down 75 per cent compared with 2019, and the news comes despite domestic aviation mounting an impressive comeback just months ago.
On Friday, Greater Sydney will hit the three-week mark of its lockdown, with most other states and territories effectively closing their borders to NSW capital and surrounding areas.
The nationwide picture is likely to follow suit imminently with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announcing on Thursday night that the state was to enter its fifth lockdown.
The trans-Tasman bubble is also now closed to NSW and will shut to Victoria within hours, cutting off the tap of commercial international travel.
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, as has subsequently occurred.
Sharp also 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.