Airport’s dire warning if COVID-19 flight rules don’t change

Ian Bushnell 19 August 2020 13
Canberra Airport

Empty halls at Canberra Airport. Border closures have devastated domestic aviation. Photo: File.

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

The airport says it cannot continue to operate at 1 per cent capacity indefinitely. Photo: File.

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.

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13 Responses to Airport’s dire warning if COVID-19 flight rules don’t change
jetabe007 jetabe007 7:45 pm 19 Aug 20

Sad to hear because of the economic impact this will have.

I’m also relieved, This Airport has been unashamedly operating flights over NSW border particularly Jerra and no amount of opposition/complaining has worked.
I call it karma.

    devonuto devonuto 10:35 am 20 Aug 20

    Airport existed long before Jerrabomberra did. Typical Jerra resident who buys a house in a flight path then complains about the noise. There is a reason the land was so cheap! You same people also complained about the noise of the speedway, which got it shut down despite existing for decades before your overrated suburb.

    jetabe007 jetabe007 5:54 pm 20 Aug 20

    TBH, There is very little to no noise. Airport has always managed it well and in the grand scheme of things it is nothing.

    FYI, speedway is being redeveloped into a regional sports complex and thanks to poplars business park, QPRC and NSW governments colossal plans for the new facilities this region is getting its fair share of attention for its proximity.

Marcia Denman Marcia Denman 7:52 pm 19 Aug 20

As we no longer need airports, why not close it down ? It is a new world, we all have to adapt

    Lisa Bishop Lisa Bishop 8:41 pm 19 Aug 20

    Yeah, good idea 🙄

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 12:51 pm 20 Aug 20

    Huh? Don’t want tourism in Canberra anymore?

    Marcia Denman Marcia Denman 8:12 pm 20 Aug 20

    . I cannot work from home in my job.

    . I am a great supporter of tourism.

    . When I have a one day business trip to Sydney, I drive or catch a bus - far simpler than all the airport drama.

    . We need to adapt to a new normal.

    . We need to accept greed, huge $ should be in the past

    . Do you really need to catch a plane ? Where are you going to go ? You could drive to Sydney if you really, really need to fly somewhere.

    . Many, many people - pilots included - have had their lives turned completely upside down.

    . Many people have sacrificed a lot to attain their careers and are in dire straits.

    . So many people have had to reinvent themselves, look for new ways to earn an income .

    . The owners of airports need to be looking at other ways to utilise these enormous spaces and, hopefully, creating jobs along the way.

    Martin Ross Martin Ross 5:08 am 21 Aug 20

    Marcia Denman, you make it sound so easy

    Let’s all drive 300+km only to have to drive many more km to ANOTHER capital city (when required to go that far) to Brisbane or Melbourne or Darwin etc. which btw can take MORE THAN ONE DAY!!

    Don’t ever tell us what to do by doing this and doing that!! You do your thing and we will do ours!!

    You are in no more control of creating jobs than you are of cooking a meal!! Are you a federal government minister? No!! So butt out of trying to think like one!! That’s their job.

    Luke Carmody Luke Carmody 10:42 pm 23 Aug 20

    How about you tell that to a customer when I have to tell them it will take me 18 hours to drive to bne and they have to pay the fuel and extra hotel bill because i cannot fly or worse to Perth when the machine that needs repairing is down.... small mindedness really gets to me during this time

Rob Thomas Rob Thomas 10:14 pm 19 Aug 20

Sure Steveo - guess it's time to stop sitting on our hands and release that vaccine.

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 9:35 am 20 Aug 20

totally agree... it's been almost 7 weeks since the last ACT case & is the safest state/territory in the country... it should be as easy as showing an ACT ID on arrival at airports in SA/WA/Tas/NT/QLD, and maybe some ACT border towns... a whole airport & all associated jobs shouldn't have to suffer due to the stubbornness of premiers & the NT chief minister

    Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 8:30 pm 23 Aug 20

    Yeah, QBN of course, Wallaroo, Sutton etc... anyone within a certain range that would fly out of CBR

Stephen Byron Stephen Byron 9:21 am 21 Aug 20

I don't recall saying any of this?

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