Airlines Threaten To Suspend International Services To Melbourne In Response To Unworkable Covid-19 Rules

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Several International airlines are saying that Victoria’s new COVID-19 “On Arrival” testing requirement & quarantine rule for flight crew makes serving Melbourne almost impossible and too risky.

The carriers are now considering stopping services to Melbourne entirely as the operational and financial risk is far too great and it’s just a matter of time until an aircraft plus the entire crew gets stranded there.

Victoria now requires airline crew to be tested on arrival and if found positive the crew will be forced into a mandatory 14-day state quarantine, leaving their next aircraft rotation stranded for the return.

This comes on the heels of another incident in Australia from Sydney where a United Airlines crew member who arrived in Australia with mere symptoms of Covid-19 has finally been released from quarantine and was allowed to fly back to the U.S. even though local health authorities wanted to keep her locked up despite a negative PCR test.

New South Wales also was repeatedly at odds with airline crew that left their hotel and broke quarantine rules, eventually getting fined by authorities. International air line crew have to quarantine at their hotel for the duration of their layover but until now, airlines were able to place crew in whatever hotel they have contracted.

New rules require that all international crew arriving in Sydney will have to stay at one of only two designated hotels which will be under police guard.

Australia is one of the very few (democratic) countries in the world that prevents their citizens from leaving the continent unless special circumstances are presented and an exception is granted by the government.

The Sydney Morning Herald now reported that all these rules are making it impossible in the eyes of the airlines to continue operating flights to Melbourne specifically but possible to Australia as a whole.

International airlines say Victoria’s new COVID-19 testing and quarantine regime for flight crew is unworkable and have threatened to suspend services to Melbourne in response to the state’s attempt to plug a gap in its coronavirus defences.

Two international airline crew members tested positive to the virus and were placed in hotel quarantine this week, Victoria’s COVID testing commander Jeroen Weimar confirmed on Thursday.

It comes a day after Victorian authorities imposed a new program of mandatory quarantine in government-managed hotels when transiting through Melbourne, similar to an approach NSW put in place this week.

Unlike NSW, however, Victoria requires crews to take a COVID-19 test on arrival and they are only allowed to leave quarantine for their return flight once they have been cleared with a negative result.

Airline staff who test positive are required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine and their fellow crew members also face a stint in isolation. Airlines fear the rules could result in pilots and cabin crew being stranded in Australia leaving nobody to fly their aircraft out of the country.

One senior source at an international airline, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorised to speak to the media and feared jeopardising negotiations with the Victorian government, said the company was considering suspending flights to Victoria.

Another airline industry source with knowledge of the threats, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said three other airlines were also contemplating changes as a result of the testing policy.

“We could be leaving a very expensive piece of metal on the ground,” said the airline source. “We are seriously questioning if we continue operating to Melbourne.”

US carrier United Airlines, Japan Airlines and Royal Brunei have made the loudest protests against the new policy, according to one government source with knowledge of the discussions. Other carriers currently flying to Melbourne include Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qatar.

Victoria’s testing commander Jeroen Weimar said that while he understood the new program was a “logistical challenge” for airlines and that some might suspend flights to Melbourne, “our position is non-negotiable”.

“As we’ve seen in very recent developments both here and in Sydney, the air crew represents significant risk,” he said.

“While we’re doing the right thing in terms of managing our international returning Australians in a very secure way, it’s important we also manage our international air crew in a similar way.” …

Gotta love the title of Testing Commander, hilarious.  In any case if the authorities think they’re doing themselves a favor with this they should probably think again because there is also a risk component the airlines are going to include in their decision if servicing Australia remains economically viable. If risks are too great it might be best to just drop the routes.

I already mentioned in my last article that with these militant policies it wouldn’t surprise me at all if international airlines would stop flying to Australia altogether in order to avoid the potential fallout from confrontations with overzealous health authorities.

Let Qantas deal with repatriation and cargo transport all by themselves while there are still thousands of Aussies who can’t get a flight home due to strict and ridiculously low quotas per flight and high prices for tickets. I can’t imagine Qantas has enough crew to voluntary get on these flights just to be subjected with quarantine upon return.

Conclusion

Airlines are finally near pulling the plug on Australia and reconsider to serve Melbourne as health authorities in Victoria have introduced rigid new rules that threaten the economic viability of these flights.

Having international carriers cease operations would present a major problem for the Australian government as those are a vital part of the logistics chain. Qantas would likely be unable to fill the void especially if the same measures discussed here would apply to Australian crew who would in turn refuse to work on these flights. Good luck with that!

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