**Update: 09/04/20 @ 05:30 UTC – The quota on the number of Australians allowed to return home is to be lifted following a National Cabinet meeting on Friday, September 4.
The Australian Government has quietly extended its ban on its citizens leaving the country. The controversial edict got put in place in March. This week, it got extended until December 17. It’s bad news for airlines and even worse news for Australians who need to travel.
While many countries are restricting who comes in during 2020, Australia has closed both the exit and entry doors. Simple Flying has reported extensively on the difficulties Australians face getting home after strict quotas got put on the number of people (including Australian citizens) allowed to enter the country. What’s less well known is the ban on Australians leaving their own country.
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Government successively extends outwards travel ban
The Australian Government declared a human biosecurity emergency period in March, banning outbound travel for three months. There have been various extensions, most recently yesterday.
“The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk,” says Health Minister Greg Hunt in a statement seen by Simple Flying.
As of Friday, there have been 26,049 COVID-19 cases in Australia and 678 deaths.
Disregarding the gross intrusion of civil liberties and the hardship it is causing many people, the extension is a further blow to airlines already struggling to maintain services into Australia.
COVID-19 and border restrictions reduce aviation activity
In December 2019, just under 4 million people flew in and out of Australia. Sixty-one international airlines operated scheduled services into various Australian airports. Some were big players, like Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines. Others flew obscure boutique routes, like Donghai Airlines’ thrice-weekly service between Shenzhen and Darwin.
Over December, average load capacity across all international airlines exceeded 80% on their Australian flights. Some carriers, such as American Airlines, had average loads in the mid-90s.
Nine months down the track, international flying into Australia is a shadow of its former self. Both Donghai Airlines and American Airlines have decamped. Seventeen of those 61 airlines operating international services into Australia have ceased doing so, including local carriers Virgin Australia and Qantas. In June 2020, just under 65,000 people flew in and out of Australia. Average loads ran at 26%.
Those numbers will drop further following news today that Malaysia Airlines is suspending its flights to Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth.
While COVID-19 is driving that decline, local border restrictions are accelerating it. The Australian Government remains unmoved by the problems it is causing. There’s no timetable in place to open Australia’s international borders, something Australia’s Prime Minister thinks is “uncontroversial.”
Uncontroversial decision sees local airlines suspend international flying
That all depends on who you ask, how urgent your need to travel is, and how well connected you are. The Australian Government may allow outbound travel if you fall into one of the following categories;
- your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
- your travel is essential for the conduct of critical industries and business (including export and import industries)
- you’re traveling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
- you are traveling on urgent and unavoidable personal business
- you are traveling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds
- your travel is in the national interest.
Non-citizens are free to leave. Dual citizens generally are not.
In this environment, Australia’s biggest airline, Qantas, has no plans to resume international flights until at least next July. Judging by recent comments from that airline’s CEO, he won’t hesitate to push that date back further if need be. Australia’s second airline, Virgin Australia, has vague plans to resume international flying but no timeline.
It makes flying and in and out of Australia challenging, both for the airlines and people who need to travel.