15 June 2022

Canberra Airport walks back legal challenge as terminal mask mandate dropped

| Lottie Twyford
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Stephen Byron

CEO of Canberra Airport Stephen Byron has called off legal action against the ACT Government following news it intends to relax the in-terminal mask mandate. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra Airport has walked back the threat of legal action against the ACT Government following a federal ruling that the in-terminal mask mandate could be dropped.

From 11:59 pm this Friday (17 June), masks will no longer be mandatory inside the Canberra Airport terminal.

Masking will still be required on planes.

This change is consistent with advice issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) yesterday. They advised it would no longer be “proportionate” to have the mandates in place from Friday. It was then up to each state and territory to decide whether it would relax its rules in line with the new advice.

In line with AHPPC’s advice, ACT Health recommends mask-wearing in the terminal if physical distancing is not possible.

Airport CEO Stephen Byron, who welcomed the news, said the updated advice was in line with the current situation.

“We really regretted being forced to consider [legal action], and with the mask mandate being abolished, there’s no need for anything further to be done,” he said.

Mr Byron said he was “heartbroken” to consider legal action given how much the airport had “supported the government’s COVID-19 response”.

“With the pandemic, the most important thing now is to move forward with positivity – especially for people who work at the airport and whose incomes depend on the travel industry – not to look back at the odd bump in the road.”

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It’s unclear exactly when a passenger will need to don a mask, but Mr Byron said they would definitely need to be on by the time a passenger passes through the door of a plane.

“We’re all grown-ups and we can all work it out,” he said.

“It really doesn’t matter as long as by the time you get through the plane door, you’re wearing the mask.”

Last week, in response to the news of the airport’s legal action, Chief Minister Andrew Barr described the issue of a difference in rules between the terminal and the plane as a “question of semantics”.

Mr Barr indicated last week he would prefer a nationally consistent approach to masks in airports.

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The airport had previously argued there was no public health justification for a mask mandate in the terminal as masks had been relaxed in many other settings.

Its lawyers would have put to the courts that the continued mandate was in breach of the Territory’s Human Rights Act and constituted a burden on travellers and workers.

The airport is currently operating at 74 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 capacity and Mr Byron expects relaxing the mask mandate will entice and encourage travellers back to the skies.

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swaggieswaggie8:44 pm 15 Jun 22

“Mr Byron expects relaxing the mask mandate will entice and encourage travellers back to the skies”. He’s living in cloud cuckoo land. Enticing travellers back to the skies means the carriers NOT cancelling services with little or no notice. I’m at the point where I gave up using the Sydney services as they are too unreliable.

I hate it when a well paid CEO is heartbroken. I mean, having to resort to potential legal action against the government to get what you want and not necessarily what the travelling public need. I am sure the public thanks you for all the support (whatever that was) the Canberra Airport gave to the government’s COVID-19 response. Don’t worry Mr Byron. The Canberra Airport can get back to its main business of exploiting the travelling public.

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