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Australia warned to lift caps if flights are to continue

Arrivals into Sydney Airport are currently capped at 350 passengers a day.

An airline industry body has warned the Australian government that its members may have to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), the official voice for Australia’s international airline industry which promotes the interests of carriers including Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways, says that caps need to be raised to a target of 100 passengers per flight if airlines are to continue flying to Australia.

Restrictions limiting the number of citizens who can return to Australia were introduced in July in order to regulate the flow of arrivals entering mandatory hotel quarantine.

However, since the caps were introduced, passengers have complained of reduced availability, price gouging and being ‘bumped’ from flights. Present caps limit passengers to 30 or fewer per flight.

Some Australians have reported being charged more than AU$10,000 for a ticket home. One passenger told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper she had booked in mid-July for a flight departing on August 26 which was cancelled just a few days before departure because of the restrictions. The airline then tried to sell her first class tickets for nearly AU$20,000 each. She was told purchasing economy tickets would lead to more chance of further cancellations.

Sydney is currently limited to 350 arrivals a day and is fully subscribed by international airlines for weeks. This, says BARA, leaves little room to accommodate hardship cases as they arise.

“At Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide airports, the small weekly caps of 500 to 525 passengers cannot be commercially viable for international airlines, especially as this small number is intended to be spread out evenly across the week,” said Abrams. “So it’s to be expected… that some international airlines will suspend their small number of flights into these airports, further reducing the options for Australians to return home.”

The number of Australians who have registered their intent to return home with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has increased from around 19,000 to 23,000 over the last two weeks. However, it is believed far more are seeking to return home than those who registered with DFAT. BARA anticipates as many as 100,000 people are looking to return over the coming weeks.

However, due to the caps, in the first week of September, more than 85% of 30,000 seats on 140 flights to Australia were empty.

BARA is now arguing that caps should be raised to a target of 100 passengers a flight.

Long-haul aircraft generally carry around 250 to 350 passengers, plus freight, to cover the fuel, crew and support costs. Reducing available inbound passenger loads to 10-15% of capacity cannot be considered commercially sustainable, BARA said in a statement. “Our members cannot be expected to continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis,” it said.

“It’s clear Australians overseas seeking to return home need better help, and the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia considers the best way to do so is to increase the arrival caps into major capital city airports,” said BARA executive director Barry Abrams.

BARA believes hotel capacity should be increased to allow for raised caps and quarantine flexibility should be introduced for arrivals from areas with low infection rates. As it stands, all arrivals must quarantine for 14 days in government allocated hotels.

However, BARA said that it and the international airlines were unaware of any firm proposals to increase the number of Australians who can return home. “International airlines remain willing to engage with governments if asked to do so in supporting better outcomes for Australians overseas,” said Abrams.

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