The Australian government has further extended key assistance measures to support domestic aviation, as well as announcing the appointment of a Future of Aviation Reference Panel as the aviation sector works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Domestic Aviation Network Support (DANS) programme, which had been due to end on 31 January 2021, would be extended for a further eight weeks. “DANS has provided critical support for the aviation sector and the Australian Government has decided to continue it until 28 March 2021 as economic momentum builds and airlines continue to add more flights to meet renewed demand,” McCormack said. “As we know, air travel was hit hard from the start of the outbreak, with the number of domestic passengers falling from 5.35 million in January to just 344,100 in April. Airlines were grounding their fleets, capacity within the domestic network had fallen 92.5 percent with Virgin Australia down to just five flights per week between Melbourne and Sydney and Qantas operating less than 2 percent of its network. Government assistance was critical to maintaining a minimum level of aviation connectivity Through the COVID-19 crisis, DANS — along with the Regional Airline Network Support (RANS) program — has enabled more than 600,000 passengers to travel across our country, including essential workers in health care, social services and law enforcement. DANS and RANS will continue to support essential freight movements around the country, providing critical access to healthcare equipment, education and mail and enabling numerous industries.”
McCormack said the government was also extending a 50 percent waiver of domestic air services charges for Regular Public Transport and aeromedical flights from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021.
Other aviation support measures including The Australian Aviation Financial Relief Package, Regional Airlines Funding Assistance and Ex-Gratia Land Tax relief for leased federal airports will run to their scheduled timeframe of 31 December 2020.
McCormack also announced the establishment of the Future of Aviation Reference Panel, to be chaired by Professor Patrick Murray, to consult the aviation industry on the recently released Issues Paper on the Future of Australia’s Aviation Sector. Murray, chair of the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Professor of Aviation and Logistics at the University of Southern Queensland, will be joined by expert panel members Adrianne Fleming OAM, Andrew Drysdale and Shannon O’Hara.
“The panel will assist the government in its ongoing support of the aviation sector as it carefully recovers from the pandemic and ensure we continue to have a safe, secure and efficient industry for Australia’s future,” McCormack said. “Managing the challenges to aviation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will require industry, regulators, governments and the community to work together.”
Commenting on the deputy prime minister’s statement, which acknowledged the need for help to manage airline costs as capacity is brought back online, Airlines for Australia & New Zealand (A4ANZ) Chairman Graeme Samuel said the program extensions came at a critical time. “By continuing to underwrite key routes that are not currently commercially viable, the Government is ensuring the connectivity of essential workers across the country, enabling the movement of critical freight and the continuation of domestic tourism for Australians. While there are positive signs around demand since border restrictions have eased, it is unlikely that Australia’s domestic capacity will return to pre-COVID levels until late-2021, with international air travel likely to take until 2024. This leaves the airlines facing a very tenuous journey ahead.”
A4ANZ CEO Dr Alison Roberts said, “the recent COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia highlighted just how fragile the recovery path is in the aviation industry, given the sudden reintroduction of hard border controls. Whilst domestic border re-openings are critical to standing the aviation industry back up, it is also at the mercy of the immediate reimposition of border restrictions, remaining vulnerable to these events until a vaccine is widely rolled out. For these reasons, there needs to be flexibility in how support is wound back – or reinstated in response to potential outbreaks and/or border closures – and we would urge caution against withdrawing support too soon.”