The Australian Government is working with the nation’s states and territories to increase the intake of international arriving passengers by 50%, to help tens of thousands of Australians return home from abroad.
With limits currently set at 4,000 overseas arrivals per week, the Government’s plan would push this to 6,000, with each jurisdiction except for Victoria asked to either increase their existing intake, or to begin taking international arrivals, to help spread the load.
“I’ve written to the Premiers and to the Chief Ministers to try to make that possible,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told media today.
“What we want to see is more Australians being able to come home. At the moment, there’s about 4,000 coming home per week – I want to raise that to 6,000."
Of the additional 2,000 arriving passengers each week, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia will each take one quarter, or 500 additional passengers per state.
However, this represents a much smaller proportion of the increase for NSW – which now accepts 2,450 arrivals each week, bearing the brunt of the national load – compared to Queensland and WA, where current weekly caps are pegged at 500.
South Australia will accept an additional 360 weekly arrivals, with the Deputy PM seeking confirmation from Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory as to how many international arrivals they’re able to quarantine at this point in time.
Michael Thomson, Head of Aviation at Canberra Airport, told Executive Traveller "we would welcome repatriation flights and are willing to work with all of the relevant authorities to make it happen."
As for Victoria, which continues to struggle with a second wave of COVID-19 infections, McCormack said that "until the situation improves to a better state, there won’t be international flights into Melbourne."
Airlines sound a cautious welcome
Qatar Airways, which has become Australia's largest airline during the pandemic, said it "appreciates Australian authorities for approving ad hoc extra capacity above the cap for compassionate, humanitarian and essential workers cases."
“We are pleased to see the announcement by the Australian Government that it will increase the cap on international arrivals to Australia allowing more Australians to be reunited with their families and loved ones," said Qatar Airways CEO His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker.
"Qatar Airways has always maintained a long-term commitment to Australia and our support to Australian passengers has not waivered despite the challenges of COVID-19. We have been flying continuously during the pandemic, without any interruption to our service to Australia, and we are here to further serve our customers with our modern and efficient fleet."
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, which represents over 30 international airlines serving Australia, welcomed this morning's announcement with the rider that “its usefulness to Australians stranded overseas will depend on when the permitted increases take effect and are incorporated into the per flight caps issued to international airlines.”
BARA executive director Barry Abrams also said that adding flights to secondary international airports such as Canberra, Hobart and Darwin “might not be commercially viable for airlines and hence not help Australians stranded overseas.”
“While it might be possible for some aircraft types to fly to such airports, it would come with many challenges for international airlines,” Abrams told Executive Traveller.
“It would need commercially viable combined inbound and outbound passenger loads plus freight, which may be difficult to obtain. The international airline may also not have existing agreements in place for necessities, including fuel, aircraft servicing and baggage handling, all of which take time to establish.”
The move follows much frustration from Australians stuck abroad, as well as from the international airlines serving Australia: some of which have paused new ticket sales into the country until the current caps were lifted, with others prioritising business class passengers to help cover the high cost of flying largely empty aircraft.