Six international flights that were designated to repatriate Australians will arrive at Sydney empty on Wednesday as the country’s arrival caps lower from 6,070 passengers a week to just 3,035.
It comes as American confirmed it would be flying 20 empty aircraft from LA to Sydney over the next two months.
The developments follow national cabinet’s decision earlier this month to halve the caps in a bid to reduce leakages of COVID out of hotel quarantine.
Australian Aviation revealed how flights last week between London and Sydney were selling for more than $43,000.
New analysis for The Sydney Morning Herald, thought to be by the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), revealed three more aircraft, carrying eight, 10 and 12 passengers each, will land on Wednesday despite a combined capacity of 750 seats.
“On certain days in July and August, the Australian government has advised that we’re not able to transport customers on the route due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said American Airlines.
“We’ll reach out to customers scheduled to travel on the affected flights to offer alternate arrangements.”
In April 2021, 45 international airlines operated scheduled services to or from Australia, with international passenger traffic down 96.8 per cent on the corresponding month in 2019.
BARA had earlier warned 18,000 Australians would be bumped off flights due to the country’s arrival caps lowering.
“That’s just the maths,” said Barry Abrams, the executive director of BARA. “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.”
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.
To compensate, the federal government has promised to fund more Qantas 787 repatriation flights and announced South Australia would host the two-week trial of home quarantine for vaccinated arrivals into the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said South Australia will now set up a plan and time frame of when the trial of home quarantine will come together.
“I think this is an important development,” said PM Morrison. “That will be a transparent project with all the other states and territories.
“It will be run, of course, by South Australia, but with the active engagement and visibility of all the other states and territories so they are in a position to pick up that project on the completion of a successful pilot program.”
The new plans will see all arrivals declare their vaccination status when they land through COVID declaration cards.
“Obviously, those who are vaccinated have a much lower risk of infection than those who are not vaccinated,” the PM added.
There will also be a “strong preference” to only allow people to leave Australia if they have been vaccinated themselves.
“That reduces the risk both to them personally, because as we know COVID is through many countries around the world and many other places Australians will travel to, and that, of course, reduces the risk when they return to Australia,” PM Morrison said.
“For those who are unable for medical reasons to receive a vaccination or at this point in the cycle they may not have access to a vaccination, these are issues that will be taken into account by the border force commissioner in considering those arrangements.”
The developments come after state and federal leaders agreed on a pathway out of the COVID pandemic, which 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 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 any other 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 thought 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.