International airlines have complained that they’re finding out about changes to flight caps and quarantine arrangements via the media, with flight crews in some cases halting Australian-bound planes from taking off while they watch Scott Morrison’s press conferences.

The concerns have been raised in a submission to the Australian National Audit Office’s examination of Australia’s international border management during Covid, including the outbound travel ban and inbound arrival caps.

In its submission, seen by the Guardian, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (Bara) – whose members include Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates and United Airlines – is scathing about how the federal government communicates changes to quarantine limits and requirements for its crews.

The submission warns “international aviation cannot operate in response to statements issued at a press conference or via media release”.

The board also criticises the government for having “no readily available plan (or prior planning scenarios) to support the effective and orderly imposition of international travel restrictions on passengers from overseas countries or infection control measures at the airport for passengers and crew”.

Speaking about airlines halting flights due to uncertainty about new quarantine rules, the Bara executive director, Barry Abrams, described one incident on the final leg of a flight into Sydney.

“The plane was taxiing to the runway but they held it while the national cabinet press conference was happening,” Abrams said. He said the airline then phoned him for clarification, fearing its crew would be “detained” for a full quarantine period and unable to staff an outgoing flight.

“Rules are being developed on the spot, so airlines can’t plan,” he said.

Member airlines have told Abrams that other countries communicate planned changes to the airlines directly, allowing them to make voluntary adjustments to their services before changes are publicly announced.

Abrams also said air crews have been forced to rely on vending machine snacks for their meals while staying in hotels in some Australian states while waiting for their outbound flights, because the hotels in which they are placed don’t plan meals for them seeing that they are not staying for 14 days of quarantine.

In its submission, Bara also proposed a model for reducing and removing quarantine requirements for arrivals from low-risk countries to allow increases in the number of Australians airlines can bring home.

In a separate industry communication on Friday, Bara warned that international airlines were considering abandoning services to Australia because “dwindling passenger volumes, spiralling costs and ongoing operational challenges are all aligning to end the commercial viability of international flights”.

Of the 54 airlines that flew into Australia before Covid, about 15 international airlines are continuing to fly into Australia – and this number could halve if arrival caps don’t increase over the next six months, according to Bara.

A handful of the remaining airlines have told Bara “they cannot be expected to keep operating passenger flights under such poor commercial and operational conditions”, claiming operational costs were 500% higher per passenger. Bara says most Australia-bound flights have been limited to carrying about 35 passengers because of the caps.

More than 36,000 Australians remain stranded overseas as a result of the arrival caps – limits requested by state and territory governments to ease pressure on their quarantine facilities that the commonwealth government, which manages international borders, mandates.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Lynette Wood told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that “the cup keeps refilling” in terms of demand for flights to Australia.

Despite repatriation flights and increases in arrival caps, Australians flying overseas with valid emergency exemptions in recent months were becoming stranded. This is because they face the same ongoing flight availability issues, including soaring ticket costs and limited tickets, triggered by the caps.

The audit office examination is targeting six federal departments with oversight of international borders: agriculture, foreign affairs and trade, health, home affairs, infrastructure and transport, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Submissions are set to close on 27 June, with a report expected to be tabled by November.

On Thursday, Victoria announced it will once again accept international flights from 8 April.

This content first appear on the guardian

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