10 August 2020

Airport to close on Saturdays, operating at 3 per cent capacity

| Dominic Giannini
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Traveller at Canberra Airport

Further job losses are expected due to dramatically reduced passenger traffic at Canberra Airport. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Canberra Airport will close on Saturdays and has warned of further job losses and stand-downs after the Queensland Government closed its border to Canberrans, reducing the airport’s operations to about 3 per cent of capacity.

The border closure was sparked by a single Sydney passenger who flew from Canberra to Queensland and later tested positive to COVID-19.

Canberra Airport Managing Director Stephen Byron says business at the airport is almost “non-existent”.

READ ALSO Barr blindsided as Queensland shuts border to ACT, NSW

To combat the loss of flights to and from Queensland, the airport is extending its return flights to Ballina-Byron Bay for another eight weeks through regional airline FlyPelican.

The flights will now operate until at least 23 October due to the increased demand and success of the service, Head of Aviation Michael Thomson said.

“Many Canberrans have escaped the Canberra chill and enjoyed a break in Ballina-Byron region and vice versa. It’s been a great opportunity for visitors to fly to Canberra and enjoy all the great experiences Canberra and our region has on offer,” he said.

“A further eight weeks gives Canberrans the opportunity to escape to the sunny far north NSW coast now or for the next school holidays.

“It also gives more opportunities for those on the North Coast of NSW to come to Canberra and the region. We are committed to the recovery of tourism and aviation and are excited for the small boost these flights will bring to Canberra.”

The airport was hopeful that the Byron service would be able to kickstart its recovery when it was announced in June. The service started a week before Queensland opened its borders on 10 July.

When the ACT shut its border to Victorians on 7 July, the Canberra-Brisbane route was able to pick up the slack from lost revenue, but now both routes have been seriously impacted.

READ ALSO Canberra Airport announces direct flights to Ballina-Byron

The sporadic closures of domestic borders have prompted Mr Byron to call on National Cabinet to come up with a domestic aviation strategy before Christmas.

“The main issue is, where do we go to from here?” Mr Byron told ABC Radio. “How long are borders going to be shut to places like South Australia and Tasmania?

“What do they want from Canberra? We have no coronavirus here so what other protocols do they want?

“This is a situation of crisis and disaster in our industry, peculiarly despite there being no significant risk of coronavirus transmission. It is not like we are an industry that has seen terrible clusters – there has been no transmission on an aircraft.”

Managing Director Stephen Byron says we need to find a way to get the aviation industry back to work in a way that is safe. Photo: Region Media.

Canberra Airport has been working with Virgin and Qantas to initiate flights to the Sunshine Coast with links to Cairns, a direct flight to Hobart and the restart of flights to Perth. Those plans have stagnated with uncertainty around border closures and quarantine requirements for ACT residents, who now face the same restrictions as NSW residents.

READ ALSO Airport Master Plan sets course for more carriers, routes and freight bonanza

After the airport was forced shut for two days in April, it then formally applied to the Federal Government to be the Australian port for a Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble with the New Zealand capital, Wellington.

These plans were also put on hold after clusters and lockdowns reemerged in Melbourne.

While Virgin axing 3000 jobs and scrapping its low-budget airline Tiger Air will not have an immediate effect on the airport because of business diversification, it will not help competition or the availability of flights in the medium to long term, Mr Byron said.

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