A number of industry bodies have again warned that foreign airlines may not be interested in returning to Queensland in the near future, given the uncertainty of COVID-19 border restrictions.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia and Brisbane Airport both argued that airlines will struggle to plan the reinstatement of international routes to the Sunshine State without greater clarity on the state’s planned reopening.
According to the aviation bodies, airlines need to know in advance an exact date for the international reopening to Queensland, as well as quarantine and testing requirements, given how long it takes to plan and execute flight schedules.
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) said that airlines need to know an exact reopening date, otherwise they won’t be able to “afford to commit to services into Brisbane”, as Queensland continues to impose strict caps on overseas arrivals and sends all arrivals into quarantine.
Instead, airlines will focus their schedules on markets where they can sell tickets, BAC said.
“With Sydney and Melbourne now open to quarantine-free travel, they are clearly the priority,” the airport said.
“We are also competing with every other airport and travel market in the world and many of them are open now, so airlines are putting their planes where they can make money.”
Similarly, Board of Airline Representatives of Australia executive director Barry Abrams said airlines need clarity on when, and how, Queensland will reopen, in order to invest their resources accordingly.
“As we’ve been asking every jurisdiction, we want clarity as to the arrangements, we need as much consistency, we effectively don’t want to operate to five different countries when coming to Australia,” he said.
“Ultimately, we’re after a firm date [for quarantine-free travel], and then we also need to know the detail of how the arrangements will work in practice.”
Abrams said this includes Queensland’s testing requirements for overseas arrivals, and self-isolation requirements for under-18s and international aircrew.
“So those guidelines and the level of clarity that airlines need is at a much more granular level than what is on a one-page PDF road map,” he said.
“If the industry is saying they need greater clarity, they’re saying it because it’s an important thing, rather than telling industry there is that clarity. The other option is saying we can meet with industry and understand what is needed and how to address it.”
The Queensland government has continued to state that it will not open its international borders until 90 per cent of its population of over-16s is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
While the state anticipates it will hit this target in January, infectious disease expert Paul Griffin worries Queensland may never hit 90 per cent, given ongoing vaccine hesitancy particularly throughout the regions.
The news follows an earlier warning made by Brisbane Airport that foreign airlines could exit the Queensland market in the longer-term, due to how long it is planned to take before the state reopens its borders.
“We are concerned that this [90 per cent] threshold is significantly higher than the National Cabinet’s roadmap and other states’ roadmaps,” BAC said in a statement, claiming that this could ultimately see foreign airlines exit Queensland, and dramatically impact the state’s recovery.
“If a fully vaccinated traveller from Melbourne can come to Queensland and not be required to quarantine once we have reached the 80 per cent vaccinated population milestone, a fully vaccinated person from Los Angeles should also be able to come to Queensland and not be required to quarantine,” the airport said.
“BAC is deeply concerned that this will see international airlines exit the Queensland market for interstate destinations where they can operate without the profit-killing impost of passenger caps.”
“It would be an absolute tragedy, as it would take several years and significant investment to try and recover these airlines and services,” the airport added.
“This simply means Queensland will be uncompetitive from an aviation perspective and will kill demand for visitation.”