Australian carriers reinstate domestic routes after financial aid

Qantas and Virgin Australia will operate additional routes within Australia after the federal government agreed to underwrite a minimal domestic service during the coronavirus pandemic.

The support, for an initial eight-week period and worth up to A$165 million ($105 million), was announced on 16 April by deputy prime minister and transport minister Michael McCormack.

The assistance covers routes including all state and territory capital cities and major regional centres. It comes on top of relief packages for the country’s aviation industry that have already been announced, worth over A$1 billion in total.

“We know that a strong domestic aviation network is critical to Australia’s success and today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment, yet again, to maintaining connectivity during this pandemic,” McCormack said in a statement.

Qantas and subsidiary Jetstar will therefore increase the number of passenger flights operated from 105 to 164 flights a week. The mainline carrier is currently operating only a small number of international passenger and freight flights. The new flights start on 17 April.

The airline says, “While travel restrictions mean most passenger flights are not commercially viable at the moment, there remains a need for some essential travel – particularly given the distances between most Australian cities.”

It adds, “These flights will also provide critical freight capacity, which has fallen significantly as commercial air networks have shrunk. Much of the bellyspace on these flights will be used for mail and other urgent shipments, including medical equipment.”

Distancing measures will be in place on flights and crew will wear personal protective equipment, Qantas says.

Compatriot Virgin Australia had halted all flying except for a Sydney-Melbourne route, plus some repatriation and charter flights.

It says it will now open up 64 return services each week, with services starting on 17 April.

“The minimal domestic schedule will enable Virgin Australia to reinstate some of its stood down flight, cabin and ground crew, along with other operational team members,” it adds.

Virgin Australia’s shares are currently suspended from trading while it discusses financing and restructuring options. It has requested a A$1.4 billion bailout from the government.

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