International airlines say they could be forced to suspend services to Australia from next week after the national cabinet agreed to halve the number of people allowed to enter the country – and they say that any suggestion of price increases is “insulting and bizarre”.
From July 14, overseas arrivals will be reduced from 6,070 to 3,035 per week, crushing the hopes of thousands of Australians stranded abroad seeking to return home.
Barry Abrams, executive director of the Australia Airlines Representatives Council, said on Sunday he sympathizes with those captured overseas. But he said airlines still serving Australia and struggling to break even would face tough choices.
âIt will be a very difficult situation for many airlines to maintain their frequency of flights to Australia,â Abrams said.
âMany will wonder whether or not it makes more sense to suspend their passenger flights or just carry out freight flights. I wouldn’t see this as cutting off Australia [but] I would see reduced connectivity and availability of flights to and from Australia. “
The price of a flight is based on its length, number of passengers and air cargo capacity, with the direct cost of a flight amounting to $ 10,000 an hour, Abrams said.
If an airline ceases operations, he expects the government to reallocate seats under the new cap to other airlines that continue to serve Australia. But without details provided to the industry, there were many unknowns regarding how the change would be handled, Abrams said.
“The airlines haven’t even received their cap reductions yet,” he said. âIt’s only when these processes start to happen that airlines can start to deal with this. I know that does not add any certainty to all of this.
“We certainly understand that this is a terrible situation, but it is something that we respect on the part of the Australian government and that the airlines will have to do.”
Abrams said the airline industry was not consulted until Friday’s announcement.
The news was followed by a wave of anger and dismay in online community groups for Australians stranded abroad.
Many called the move “inhumane,” especially since no time frame or target was provided to specify when quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers might ease.
Nearly 5,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to “deny Annastacia Palaszczuk an exemption to leave Australia to attend the Tokyo Olympics” after the Prime Minister of Queensland led the charge on states campaigning to reduce the number of international arrivals.
According to the most recent figures from the Foreign Office, 34,000 Australians stranded abroad are still waiting to return home.
The price of flights to Australia skyrocketed after Friday’s announcement, but Abrams rejected any suggestion that airlines were raising prices.
âAs international airlines, we would take this as an insult,â Abrams said. âThey continued to operate throughout the pandemic under extremely difficult business conditions and many large multinationals continue to experience significant cash losses. Any idea that they took advantage or scammed is just plain weird. “
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Saturday he hoped “there is no one looking for a business advantage in difficult circumstances.”
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham defended the reduction in the arrivals ceiling on Sunday.
âThis decision is one that simply addresses the reality that the risk profile is changing as we continue to navigate this pandemic,â he told ABC’s Insiders program. “The Delta variant changes this profile in terms of transmissibility and the risks associated with it.”
The minister rejected suggestions that the reduction in the cap could have been avoided had the federal government started planning and building specially designed quarantine facilities in early 2020.
“I don’t think we can ever replicate the number of hotel quarantine places in other types of facilities,” he said.
âAustralia has done an incredible job of getting people to come back while continuing to remove the virus and keep it out of the community, so it’s a very successful model to date. “
– Additional reporting by Australia Associated Press