Canberra Airport faces having to shut down its operations completely if a way to boost domestic aviation cannot be found by 1 October.
Managing Director Stephen Byron said the airport was operating at only 1 per cent capacity with less than 100 passengers a day after states closed their borders due to COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW and Victoria, in effect treating Canberra as if it were a suburb of Sydney.
The airport has been shut on Saturdays and has resisted closing on Tuesdays as well.
”We’re hanging on in the hope that things will improve,” he said. ”We’ve got got a plan to defer any other reductions in operations until 1 October.”
It was also working on a number of strategies to increase the level of domestic aviation, including a collective airport approach to government.
He said today (19 August) was one of the busiest of the week but only 92 people were flying.
”The reality is we’re going to have under 100 people flying every day between now and Christmas and now and Easter unless they change the rules,” Mr Byron said.
He will be speaking to the National Covid Commission next week and he has written to the premiers of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania asking them to consider reopening borders without quarantine for ACT residents only.
”If they’re saying NSW residents are using Canberra to fly out of and treating Canberra like a suburb of Sydney then this is the solution,” Mr Byron said.
He added that the key was establishing a limit on domestic aviation that was safe but reasonable, pointing out that the construction industry in Victoria under a Stage 4 lockdown was operating at 25 per cent capacity which he believed was a good target to aim for in all states but Victoria.
Canberra Airport executives will be working with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport Michael McCormack to put a case to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and state chief medical and health officers to set an appropriate and safe limit of interstate air travel in states where there are low levels of COVID-19
”That can then go to the National Cabinet, and the Premiers can collectively make a decision,” Mr Byron said.
The improving situation in Victoria offered some hope but Mr Byron said the country needed to learn how to live with the virus until a vaccine was available, which could be next year.
”If we have to wait ’til then, then we’re not going to operate for the next nine months on less than 100 passengers a day,” Mr Byron said.
”We will need to shut the show if we can’t get domestic aviation back some time very close to 1 October, and know a start date when we can operate at at least 25 per cent.”
Despite the prospect of a complete shutdown, Mr Byron said the airport did not want a subsidy from any government to operate.
”We just want the sensible health advice to allow us to operate,” he said.
Mr Byron insists flying is safe and airports can be safe.
”The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has endorsed the safe flying principles for domestic flying. There has not been a single case of transmission,” he said.
Mr Byron said it was not just affecting Canberra Airport, but the aviation, hospitality and tourism industries and their employees.
”We’ve got to work very hard. Equally, we owe it to all of the people who are unemployed, been made redundant, sitting at home on JobKeeper with nothing to do, and staring down the barrel of another nine to 12 months of nothing,” he said.
While only a few of the businesses at the airport are still operating, such as the coffee shop, the business park arm was back to 75-80 per cent capacity, while the Majura Park retail precinct was very busy, providing some stability for the overall business.
Capital Brewery was expected to open at the airport later in the year but the current circumstances have put a cloud over that.