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‘Immediate issues’ still to be solved before international restart, airlines say

written by Hannah Dowling | September 29, 2021
Etihad Airways ended Boeing 787-9 flights between Perth and Abu Dhabi in October 2018. (Keith Anderson)
Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 in Perth (Keith Anderson)

The global airline industry has again warned that Australia is underprepared for the restart of international travel, and risks being a non-commercially viable market for airlines if the issues hindering the industry remain unresolved.

It comes after Tourism Minister Dan Tehan confirmed that the country’s international borders are expected to re-open by Christmas “at the latest”, and follows a number of industry bodies repeatedly suggesting that there is still a lot of work to be done before Australians return to the skies.

According to the Board of Airlines Representatives of Australia (BARA), which represents a number of international airlines including Emirates and Etihad, the Australian government must provide certainty on key “immediate issues” as soon as possible if it wishes to see Australians flying by December.

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Firstly, BARA outlined that international passenger caps need to be revised and confirmed, so airlines can plan flight schedules accordingly.

Current understanding suggests that the Australian government may introduce different caps for the entry of vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers, however BARA said that this method will be difficult for airlines to implement.

“This is because global ticketing systems are not designed to sell a tiered number of tickets for individual flights based on passengers’ vaccination status, which is unknown to airlines at the point of sale,” BARA said.

“As such, airlines will not know if the passenger is included within the cap allocation at the point of sale.”

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Further, unclear messaging on pre-flight testing and vaccination requirements for travel could also cause chaos for airlines when demand for travel ramps up well beyond current levels.

​​The industry group suggests that the processing of international arrivals will need to be “substantially streamlined if there is to be any increase in international passenger numbers”.

Currently, it takes 10-20 minutes to process each passenger that arrives into Australia, in order to check and verify their health data, which would see wait times at airports blow out once passenger numbers increase dramatically.

“Removing travel restrictions in tandem with bringing in the QR codes covering vaccination status with electronic verification should greatly reduce how long it takes to check-in departing passengers,” BARA said.

However, the planned QR code vaccine passport will link only with Australia’s Medicare system, so it is not yet known how border officials will verify the vaccination status of people who were not vaccinated in Australia.

The industry body said that the government implementing a means of recognising the vaccine status of people that got the jab overseas “would be of the utmost benefit in helping more Australians return home before the end of 2021”.

It’s the latest in a slew of calls made for the government to provide immediate clarity on rules and procedures around international travel, as Australia’s vaccine rate continues to surge towards the coveted 80 per cent of its adult population.

While airports have comfortably adapted to cater to current overseas repatriation efforts, the industry remains in the dark about some key requirements for a mass return of international flights, said Australian Airports Association CEO James Goodwin.

“At the moment, we still don’t know what procedures will be for passengers coming in from overseas, and what is needed of airports, airlines, staff and government agencies to facilitate that,” Goodwin told Australian Aviation earlier this month.

“There are long lead times in aviation, so six or 12 months is not actually a long time in our world. So a lot of this planning could have and should have been done a long time ago.”

Specifically, Goodwin said the industry is unaware of exactly how the government wants passengers to be screened both before and after their flights, and how passengers who must enter hotel quarantine will be separated from others.

“It’s so important that we know what those rules and protocols will be for passengers as soon as possible, including how they’ll be screened, because if we need to make changes to our terminal to account for that, it will take time,” he said.

“Airports weren’t designed to be separating passengers based on their health or their vaccine status, so we need to prepare.”

Brisbane Airport’s executive general manager for aviation Jim Parashos said that both the state and federal governments should be making such decisions in close consultation with the industry.

“Guidance, teamwork and collaboration are absolutely key here, and I urge both the state and federal governments to work with airports and airlines to make sure we’re active participants in this crucial decision-making,” Parashos said.

“We know that the process for incoming passengers is going to look different whether you’re from a ‘green’ COVID-safe country, or an amber or a red country, and it’s really important that airports and airlines are involved in those decisions and understand them.”

Goodwin agreed, stating, “We’re here to help facilitate this process, we want to reopen Australia, but there’s a lot involved with this and we don’t want to get it wrong.

“The planning needs to be done right the first time, every airport is a little bit different, and we need to develop a uniform approach to pre and post-flight processing, as well as quarantine arrangements, and this is why it’s important that decisions are made in consultation with us.”

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3 Comments

  • There’s plenty of ways to skin cat but after landing in Sydney, and other countries, researching their systems for the new normal and applying logic, this is my idea for Australia’s international travel inbound requirements, post 80% ie from November:

    – International Passengers to be Vaccinated (any WHO vaccine) with some exceptions*(like children under 12 and green zone), and pretesting before travel for passengers from high risk countries and the unvaccinated. Vaccination & test record entered into the app/QR code prior to flight. Use IATA travel pass. Its already created…

    TRAFFIC LIGHT SYSTEM:
    – GREEN: (LOW risk countries, Travel bubble) NO QUARANTINE or requirements on landing, NO CAPS. For countries like New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Hong Kong etc with negligible covid in the community
    – YELLOW: (Med risk, Most countries) 7 day HOME quarantine (no caps). Monitor temps and send in your location photo randomly/daily maybe? Test locally on day 6.
    – RED: (Very high risk, or unvaccinated) 7day hotel quarantine only for a new “outbreak area of concern” and *unvaccinated exemptions (caps apply). Also the sin bin if people fake records or stuff up their paperwork etc.

    Dear Australian airport operators,
    You know the options. Go ahead with the most logical plan, staffing requirements and cost it out. Then approach the State government with cost, and cost difference with each option that deviates from what you think is logical. They will have to bear the cost anyway?
    No excuses now to open up…

    WA, QLD, pretest for COVID required from NSW VIC, easy!

    Sorted. The invoice is in the mail…

  • Dave

    says:

    The Australian government needs to update their : https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/europe/malta as it is still showing a red zone which shouldn’t have been for some time now. This will make a difference for passengers returning back home regarding quarantine. We are repeatedly being let down when it’s time for us to depart, flight after flight being cancelled between Dubai/Sydney. Our latest being 1 week prior to us leaving the island for the 9th time, we have been trying to return home for the past year.
    They certainly need to get their act together as Australia is being left behind.

  • Adrian P

    says:

    The thing is will Worksafe Victoria be taking the various organisations at a port of entry to court for not providing a safe work place due insufficient training, as is the case for historical hotel quarantine issues.
    It is so easy when it is others who have to do the due diligence regarding cross contamination, structural issues regarding air conditioning etc. The paper work for non residents coming to Australia is probably the easier part of all this in that everyone coming to Australia should have a visa and part of the the visa process would require prove of vaccination. For the airlines it is the same protocol as pre-covid , no visa no boarding.

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