The federal government has announced it will give another $184 million to international aviation to tide the sector over until March 2022.
The money will primarily include a continuation of JobKeeper-style payments to pilots and cabin crew that was originally due to expire next month, as well as a further $64 million for airports to pay for screening of passengers and baggage.
It comes weeks after Qantas and Jetstar revealed they would reinstate international schedules in mid-December between Australia and low-risk countries such as Singapore, the US, Japan, the UK, Canada and Fiji. The news that payments will continue suggests the government is anticipating a staggered opening of borders to different countries.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who oversees transport policy, said, “As a driver of so many sectors of our economy, it is essential that the industry is ready to ramp up operations when international restrictions are eased.
“It’s also important that the sector continues operating now, to maintain the flow of exports and imports and bring Australians home from overseas.”
Airports that will get money for screening include Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and means the total amount of government support for aviation during COVID has now gone over $5 billion.
Currently, Australian citizens and permanent residents can only leave the country with an exemption, with Qantas having halted all commercial international flights other than government-supplemented repatriations.
Those returning must hotel quarantine for two weeks, but there is hope the federal government will have relaxed that rule later this year, in favour of home quarantine or proof of vaccination status.
Qantas has previously said its international re-opening is likely to be “gradual”, with a focus on low-risk countries first, including those with high vaccination uptake including the UK, US, and parts of Asia.
Last week, Australian Aviation reported that 50 Qantas aircrew would take part in a home-isolation trial in NSW that will pave the way for the abolition of hotel quarantine for international arrivals.
In total, 175 people will be allowed to stay at home for seven days, rather than in a supervised facility for 14, and the trial will begin this month. It has been suggested location-based apps and facial recognition technology could be used to ensure compliance.
The trial will initially include people who will be selected by NSW Health and may include the state’s residents, non-Australians and Qantas air crew.
NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said, “We have been working with Qantas aircrew and staff for a number of months now and will include some of those people in this trial to conduct their quarantine at home.”
Minister Ayres hailed the move as an “important step” that has been driven by the accelerated vaccine take-up.
“This is a trial, and about testing different types of accommodation, apartments and homes,” said Minister Ayres.
“We want to ensure we get the spread right. This isn’t about prioritising individuals or people who have been overseas. It’s about ensuring we conduct the trial properly and build the base of evidence, so we can remove our hotel quarantine system for the majority of people who are coming into Australia.
“We can’t stay closed forever. We’ve got to be able to learn what happens when we put people into home-based quarantine.
“Australia must reopen. We must get rid of lockdowns, we must get rid of home quarantine, we must re-engage with the world.
“Sydney is a global city and it must engage with the globe. This is an important step in that direction.”
The trial will only apply to those who have been double vaccinated with Australian-approved vaccines, and would build on evidence collected through an earlier SA trial.