Left Hand Seat

Written by Jim Davis, RAAA Chairman on -

Since our last newsletter the world has changed dramatically with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. The aviation industry has undergone massive worldwide disruption the like of which has not been seen since World War 2. Australia is very much a part of this with international operations virtually ceasing while domestic and regional air services run skeleton schedules courtesy of Government subsidies. It must be noted that the Federal Government, specifically the National Party, responded positively to calls from regional operators to provide assistance or face a shutdown of all regional air services and they are to be commended for their foresight in providing some relief to the aviation industry. Equally, several State Governments stepped in with subsidies to avoid their regional centres losing all air services and they are also to be congratulated.

Additionally more general support, in particular the Jobkeeper scheme, has allowed many other aviation businesses to stay afloat. However specific support for flying training schools and tourism operators has not been forthcoming and the RAAA is continuing to lobby for these sectors. The necessary shutdown of our international borders has meant overseas tourists are no longer coming and the lockdown imposed by State and Territory Governments has precluded any domestic tourism. This is starting to ease and we will hopefully see a revival of domestic tourism over the next few months, but it is logical to expect that our international borders will remain shut for much longer. Equally the loss of overseas pilot trainees and a drop in local demand has seen our flying schools lose much of their business. It is vital that we support them as they will be sorely needed once the COVID19 emergency has passed and the demand for pilots inevitably starts to pick up again.

The big question is what happens after September when the current Government assistance schemes cease. Some industry sectors will bounce back fairly quickly but aviation will not be one of them. Demand for travel may be sluggish without international air services and it remains to be seen how many businesses adopt new travel practices, having gotten used to virtual meetings and running their businesses online. Visiting friends and relatives may also be slow to recover as people continue to Skype instead of physically travelling. There will for a while be an understandable reluctance to frequent crowded passenger terminals and sit in full aircraft due to a fear of possible coronavirus transmission.

To address the last point a body has been formed called the Australian Aviation Recovery Coalition (AARC). This is an initiative started by Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ; composed of Qantas, Virgin, Air New Zealand and Rex) and the Australian Airports Association but encompasses major aviation organisations including the RAAA. The AARC has put together a detailed plan on how to re-introduce air travel including what controls are necessary to ensure the coronavirus is not spread and to give the travelling public confidence that there is no danger of contagion. It is assumed that this will apply to all air travel to some extent. The recovery plan has been developed in consultation with the Government’s peak medical advisory body the AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) of which we have heard much during the pandemic. It will then go the National Cabinet for formal adoption and by the time you read this it should be in force. The RAAA will send out details of the AARC plan to all members as soon as it has been approved.

The RAAA itself has also been affected and sadly has had to cancel this year’s convention. This will have a major effect on our finances next financial year, and we are currently exploring other initiatives to enable us to stay financial. To this end we have also reduced our office to a four day week and hope you understand if you get a recorded message when you are contacting us. My thanks to Mike and Nic for making this sacrifice. We fully appreciate that many of our members are struggling and that next year’s RAAA membership fees may be low on the expenditure list but we hope that most of you will renew your membership as it is now more important than ever.

In summary we have weathered the COVID19 pandemic much better than many thought possible when it first started and we seemed to be facing absolute carnage within the aviation industry. This is not to downplay those that have suffered grievously during the emergency but it must be acknowledged that the Federal Government’s initiatives in directly and indirectly supporting our industry and in somehow controlling the coronavirus without going to a total lockdown as seen in other countries has enabled many regional aviation businesses to stay afloat. However we still have a long way to go to recover from this economic and medical crisis and the RAAA will continue working with Government to try and ensure the best possible outcome for our industry.