These are certainly turbulent times all across the aviation world. Some airlines seem to be fairing a little worse than others, however. After Virgin Australia entered into administration, some actors are taking it upon themselves to make sure they get what they feel the carrier owes them. On Friday, Perth Airport confirmed it had impounded four Virgin Australia aircraft. And it’s bringing out some heavy artillery to do it.
Four Virgin aircraft blocked
Some remarkable scenes are playing out at Perth Airport. One Virgin Australia Boeing 737 is finding itself nose to nose with an airport bulldozer. The vehicle is situated in front of the plane to prevent the airline from attaching a tug, thus hindering the pushback of the aircraft.
Dramatic twist in the collapse of Virgin Australia as bulldozers and trucks are used to block planes from taking off until their debts are repaid
— Daily Mail Australia (@DailyMailAU) April 24, 2020
Another of the troubled carrier’s aircraft, an Airbus A330, has been blocked by an unidentified large vehicle to stop anyone from attaching a tow bar. And, as reported by ABC, the airport seems to be throwing everything but the kitchen sink in front of the other two planes. Or at least, service stairs, and other seemingly random runway items that are used to block the other two.
Perth Airport claims it’s “standard practice”
According to Australian media outlet 7news, Virgin Australia owes Perth Airport A$16 million (roughly equivalent to US$10 million).
“Virgin has significant outstanding invoices from Perth Airport for airfield, and terminal use charges, money the airline has already collected from its passengers and the FIFO sector,” a spokesperson for the airport told the Western Australian.
“While Perth Airport is working with the Virgin administrators, it also needs to protect its own interests. Perth Airport has taken liens over a number of Virgin aircraft – a standard practice in these situations.”
A lien is a legal right of possession until debts are paid, something Perth Airport now claims to have over the four aircraft.
Meanwhile, a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Simple Flying that “We are aware that Perth Airport has restricted access to our aircraft and the Administrator is dealing directly with Perth Airport on the matter. There is no impact to scheduled flights.”
“Ridiculous,” says Qantas
The extraordinary measures of Perth Airport have not gone unnoticed by Virgin rival airline Qantas. The Australian flag-carrier came to its compatriot’s defense calling the Western Australia airport’s maneuver “ridiculous.”
“Even by Perth Airport’s standards, this is extraordinary behavior,” Qantas said in a statement shared with news.com.au. “Protecting your interests is one thing, but parking a bulldozer in front of an aircraft while saying you’re ‘working to secure an agreement’ is ridiculous. It’s no way to treat a customer of 20 years. This kind of action is deeply worrying for all users of Perth Airport.”
Qantas has its own disagreement with Perth Airport over what it has described as “excessive charges.” There is even an ongoing court dispute between the two that has been going on since 2018. Perth Airport is claiming it is owed A$20 million (about US$13 million) in aeronautical fees by Qantas.
Access for maintenance
Despite being placed into administration, Virgin Australia is still operating some 180 flights per week while administrators work towards restructuring and finding a potential buyer for the company. However, none of the four aircraft now under their own special lockdown in Perth were scheduled to fly.
“They can access those aircraft if they need to do any maintenance on them,” Perth Airport chief executive Kevin Brown told ABC Radio Perth.
What do you make of Perth Airport’s antics? Reasonable or ridiculous? Let us know in the comments!