Following a National Cabinet meeting late last week, Australia is temporarily reducing the number of weekly international passenger arrivals by around 50%. This follows new highly-transmissible strains of COVID-19 emerging in Europe. By mid-January, the number of inbound passengers allowed into Australia will be cut from around 6,000 people to 3,000 people each week.
Passenger arrivals temporarily cut by 50%
In addition to several Qantas repatriation flights to Darwin that operate outside the arrivals quota, around 6,000 passengers are now allowed to land in Australia each week. Sydney Airport handles around half the number. Brisbane and Perth Airports each take around 1000 passengers weekly. Melbourne and Adelaide Airports take about 500 passengers each.
Every passenger goes into a mandatory self-funded 14-day quarantine at a supervised facility – usually a hotel. The spread around the various airports caters to hotel availability, local health system resources, and the co-operation of Australian state governments.
For the next month, the already low weekly arrival quota will halve until mid-February. In a media statement, the National Cabinet said on Friday;
“International passenger caps in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia will be temporarily halved from no later than 15 January 2021 to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travelers who have been potentially exposed to the new variants.
“Current international passenger caps in Victoria and South Australia and arrangements in the Northern Territory are considered manageable and will remain in place.”
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Further barriers to Australians trying to return home
There are still nearly 40,000 Australians stuck overseas and registered with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The bulk of those people are in the United Kingdom and India.
Many of these people have been trying to get back to Australia for months. However, they are hampered by the arrivals quota and airlines frequently canceling flights.
“Please take note that schedules are subject to change without prior notice and status displayed may not represent all possible and additional flights available,” says Malaysia Airlines. That airline has just canceled some of its already scaled back flights to Australia over the next month in response to the new arrivals quota.
Changing rules a big headache for airlines
“Like all airlines around the world, we have to balance the needs of our millions of passengers with the operational challenges we face due to entry restrictions imposed by a number of countries,” says Qatar Airways. Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, last year said the constantly shifting border restrictions proved the biggest day to day operational challenge his airline faced.
“We have massive amounts of Australians who want to go back to their country, but the quota is making it difficult,” Mr Al Baker said in late 2020. According to one recent post in Facebook Group, Australians Stuck Abroad, one man has just had his Qatar Airways ticket home canceled for the sixth time. Another says her Qatar Airways flight from London to Melbourne later in January is “suspended.”
In addition to the reduced arrival number, the Australian Government announced on Friday that all arrivals will need a negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure. Masks will continue to be compulsory on flights and in airports.
Regarding international flight crew, the Australian Government says aircrews must take a COVID-19 test every seven days or on arrival in Australia. Aircrews must continue to quarantine in dedicated quarantine facilities between international flights or for 14 days, Further, they cannot reposition for an outgoing international flight unless they do so on a crew-only flight.