An Australian airport boss has hit out at hard border lockdowns and ad hoc travel restrictions, saying they throw travel plans into chaos and hit airports and airlines hard. Stephen Byron, CEO at Canberra Airport, also says Australia needs to get its vaccination program in order, incentivize people to get it and set some goals.
Canberra Airport boss calls for clarity on border closures and travel restrictions
Mr Byron’s comments come ahead of an Australian National Cabinet meeting on Friday. The CEO is calling for clarity on border closures and travel restrictions, especially for vaccinated travelers. Mr Byron’s comments to The Canberra Times come in the wake of a snap three-day hard lockdown in Perth. That lockdown followed one man testing positive for COVID-19 after been released from hotel quarantine.
In the last year of normal flying, 2019, Canberra Airport was Australia’s eighth busiest, handling 3,154,400 domestic and 85,069 international passengers that year. The airport is owned by a prominent local family headed by Terry Snow. The most recent financial results available concerning Canberra Airport cover the 2019/20 financial year ending June 30, 2020. Around one-third of that year was impacted by the travel downturn. However, Canberra Airport’s profit was US$75 million, down from US$188 million the year before.
Business is normalizing at Canberra Airport now, but for much of 2020, the airport was a ghost town. At one stage, the airport closed on Saturdays due to a lack of flights.
Stephen Byron joins other industry figures wanting clearcut travel rules
Mr Byron has an eye on Canberra Airport’s bottom line when he calls for clarity around border closures and travel restrictions. He’s not alone there. Airline and airport bosses around Australia have been singing that same song for the last year.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has long criticized the lack of uniform rules regarding border closures and travel restrictions. My Joyce said at a media briefing back in August;
“I think that’s a problem for a lot of businesses, it’s a problem for our business, and eventually, it’s going to be a problem for the economy.”
Now the vaccination rollout has begun, industry figures like Stephen Byron seem underwhelmed by the Australian Government’s continuing refusal to let vaccinated Australians travel internationally. In some cases, as with Perth last weekend, vaccinated West Australians could not other some Australian states or had to go into quarantine.
“If you’ve had a vaccine, why would state border quarantine rules apply to you?” Mr Byron asks.
Australian Government needs to set timelines and target dates for travel
Mr Byron argues Australia’s success in keeping COVID-19 at bay and ongoing refusal to let its citizens travel internationally is slowing the take up of the vaccine. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said last week that even if the entire country was vaccinated, “you couldn’t just open the borders.”
Mr Byron wants more flights and more business through his airport. But until there is more local and international certainty, many people won’t travel. Mr Byron wants travel restrictions eased, and he sees vaccinations as key to this. He says the Australian Government needs to incentivize more Australians to roll up their sleeves and get the needle.
“Vaccination rates are not going to increase unless they explain what the benefits are,” he said.
What would be the benefits? Perhaps outlining a timeline with target dates for unwinding international (and any domestic) travel restrictions.
“Here is a pathway and passport to getting our freedoms back, but there needs to be a benefit to the individual, and the Premiers at the National Cabinet need to spell that out.
“If you are vaccinated, you should have the ability to travel.”
Is Mr Byron right? Should the Australian Government continue to prevent vaccinated travelers from entering or leaving the country? Post a comment and let us know.