'Pitiful': New cap sees empty flights headed for Australia

·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

The airline industry has hit out at the "pitiful" number of Australian expats allowed to fly home with some planes reportedly containing as few as five people. 

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced international arrivals (excluding flight from NZ) would be halved from the already low weekly cap of 6,070 people due to problems with the Commonwealth's quarantine system. 

The move – which comes into effect on July 14 – was pushed for by Labor premiers in Queensland, Victoria and WA. 

Executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, Barry Abrams, says the move puts airlines in an almost impossible situation.

People walk to board Qantas plane.
The government's insular position will see some 19,000 passengers booted from flights home. Source: Getty

While the initial cap was low, "at least airlines could sell tickets with confidence," he told 3AW radio on Wednesday morning. 

With the reduced cap coming into effect, about 19,000 passengers will be bumped, he warned. 

"There’s no easy or clean way to do this because, for now, the numbers are so pitiful," Mr Abrams said. 

"For a number of airlines they’ll need to look into their flights to see if it’s still worth running them."

The result has seen the prices for commercial flights into Australia spike significantly as some carriers focus on freight only flights, making it financially prohibitive for even the most desperate Aussies to return home.

Airlines forced to consider their future in Australia

"The airlines have been very keen to keep a level of connectivity to Australia … and for them as airlines to justify keeping an office, staff, a base.

“If they have to close head offices and staff offices here it means the decisions and the timing to restart are going to be a lot harder," Mr Abrams warned. 

Even last year flights to Australia with as few as one or two passengers on board sparked outrage among those still stranded overseas

Albion Haxhnikaj takes a selfie on an empty plane.
Albion Haxhnikaj flew home to Sydney in December last year on an empty plane. Source: Facbeook/ Albion Haxhnikaj

Despite quarantine being a Commonwealth responsibility in the Australian constitution, the states have carried the load with imperfect hotel quarantine solutions. 

After months of resisting calls to erect new purpose-built quarantine facilities, the Morrison government this month agreed to build a 1000 bed quarantine facility north of Melbourne at a site in Mickleham.

At the earliest, it will be ready about two years into the pandemic and won't mean the end of hotel quarantine for Victoria.

While strong border measures have proved electorally popular, the prospect of even fewer Aussies being allowed to return home has drawn fierce criticism from many with loved ones still stuck abroad as Australia's bungled vaccine program has helped fuel an increasingly insular politics in the country.

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