Coronavirus Flight Cancellations Could Delay Australian Mail

Australia Post is warning that Australia’s currently threadbare domestic airline network will delay mail. At the best of times, it can already take ten days to get a letter from one part of the country to another. Now the government-owned postal operator expects delivery time frames to deteriorate further.

Qantas has a seven-year USD$640 million freight deal with Australia Post. The respective CEOs are photographed when the deal was signed last year, Photo: Qantas News Room.

Australia Post relies on regularly scheduled domestic flights to carry over 100 tonnes of mail a day. Unfortunately, those flights are now grounded.

Qantas has a lucrative deal with Australia Post

Long distances between cities means Australia Post uses air services for much of its mail. In 2019, the postie did a USD$650 million seven-year deal with Qantas to get the mail through.

That deal would see Qantas’ dedicated fleet of freighters carry Australia Post letters and parcels around Australia. At the time, Australia Post CEO, Christine Holgate, said she expected the local e-commerce market to grow to USD$32 billion over the next five years.

Qantas was enthusiastic. Wanting a slice of that $32 billion pie, the deal encouraged Qantas to order three Airbus A321P2Fs to supplement its existing fleet of Boeing 737 freighters. In addition, Qantas was to also give Australia Post priority access to freight space on the 1500 plus Qantas and Jetstar domestic passenger services operated each day.

Mail goes nowhere as domestic flights evaporate

The problem is that nearly all of those 1500 plus domestic flights have vanished. The freighters are still flying but they don’t cover all of Australia. The result is a lot of mail, particularly that which is destined for regional and rural areas, is going nowhere fast.

In a statement, Australia Post says;

“Australia Post regrets to inform customers that due to reductions in air freight capacity, there may be delays on the letters and parcels network that Australia Post operates around the country, particularly to regional and rural communities.”

A rendering of the Airbus A321P2F Qantas has ordered to fulfill its Australia Post contract. Photo: Qantas News Room.

While investigating alternative transport options, the postie is warning deliveries to North Queensland may be delayed by up to seven days. Deliveries to Western Australia and South East Queensland may be delayed by up to five days. Deliveries to Tasmania may be delayed by up to three days.

As reported earlier this week, Qantas has one flight scheduled into North Queensland this week and three flights to Perth. The airline is maintaining about one flight a day into Tasmania.

Government wants to underwrite some domestic services

Getting mail and supplies into regional and remote areas is a key reason the Australian government is moving to underwrite domestic air services. These services will focus on maintaining some services to cities like Darwin, Alice Springs, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, and into Queensland.

An announcement by the Australian government regarding this was expected yesterday, Tuesday, 14 April. But Virgin Australia’s high stakes move yesterday, placing its stocks into a trading halt, put the kybosh on any announcement.

Virgin Australia has no dedicated freighters but it can carry freight below the main deck. Photo: Virgin Australia News Room.

Despite this, the Australian government remains keen to wrangle an undertaking from both Qantas and Virgin Australia to operate more domestic flights to ports outside Australia’s south-east corner.

Whether Virgin Australia gets a temporary slice of the Australia Post pie isn’t known. It’s unlikely Qantas will be enthusiastic about any proposal that it does. But there’s strong wider demand for freight deliveries, including critical medical and health supplies.

In the meantime, your birthday card and enclosed check from Nana might take a while to reach you.