when will the australian aviation industry return to normal?

when will the australian aviation industry return to normal?

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For their first overseas trip since the pandemic, Lianne and Grant Francis had planned to be in Bali for their 23rd wedding anniversary, but instead spent their special day in transit after Jetstar canceled their original flight.

Lianne says that among those who waited four hours at the gate, just for the outbound flight cancellation, was a woman with her husband – who uses a wheelchair and lives with dementia – for what would have been theirs. last trip together. There were also tearful kids waiting to board, while others shelled out thousands of dollars by booking alternative flights with other airlines.

The Francis weren’t alone in Bali, with more than 4,000 travelers affected by multiple Jetstar flight cancellations since the beginning of the month. But Jetstar’s woes over the past two weeks were just the latest chapter in the history of a failing aviation industry.

An overwhelming consumer scrutiny report criticized airlines for high domestic air fares. Land handlers in the Qantas supply chain have threatened a strike action. And ABC’s Four Corner program highlighted the decline in the domestic carrier’s reputation for reliability.

Rates that fly high

According to the latest Airline Competition in Australia report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), domestic air fares have increased by 56% in the past four months due to high fuel costs and upward pressure from decision making. cutting capacity.

The Guardian Australia reported earlier this week on the near $ 1,500 airfares that diehard Collingwood fans face for flights back to Sydney for Saturday’s AFL preliminary final. However, while Australians are paying more for their tickets, the ACCC report shows the domestic airline industry reported its worst on-time performance on record, while airlines canceled flights at a rate three times the average. long-term.

The report also revealed that the ACCC was investigating whether Qantas’ conduct raised concerns under the Australian Consumer Law, as the regulator said it was aware that customers had encountered “a number of problems” with the domestic carrier, including flight credits.

The president of the ACCC, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, says that “as a general principle, Qantas and other airlines must make a realistic assessment of how many flights they can serve”.

A marked workforce

ABC’s Four Corners spoke with current and former Qantas staff, including pilots, flight attendants, and baggage handlers, who said the merciless cost reduction was the cause of the airline’s loss.

“The cuts that have come from management decisions have been incredibly, incredibly deep. [It] now it not only impacts the customer experience, but… it just makes us feel like we’re disposable and almost like the company hates us, ”a flight attendant told Four Corners.

According to the transport workers union, ground operators in the Qantas supply chain have recently threatened industrial action due to the prospect of back pay and back conditions.

Dnata’s managers had planned a 24-hour strike on Monday 12 September, which was called off after workers reached an agreement with the company on a new collective agreement in Australia. Meanwhile, the ground workers at Menzies in NSW and Victoria have secured a commitment from their company for wage increases and for the internalization of all currently outsourced operations after preparing to move to a protected action vote, he said. Thursday the transport workers union in a statement.

Qantas said the staff shortage due to Covid-19 was at the root of the problems, but at one point it seemed to blame customers for the delays, saying they weren’t “fit.”

A crowd of people queuing to check their luggage at an airport

Travelers queued to check baggage at the Sydney Domestic Terminal in early July, one of several incidents airlines have attributed to understaffing. Director of photography: Dean Lewins / AAP

Following the layoffs of staff due to Covid-19, Andrew Charlton, chief executive of independent aviation consultant Aviation Advocacy, says “the industry (including Qantas, of course) is going to hell to recruit. staff “, accompanying an industry – believing that better working conditions and pay were needed.

Planes out of service and 747s soon retired

Long-term storage of aircraft during pandemic border closures also caused problems, including engine failures, when aircraft were resuscitated, with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority identifying “the awakening of the aircraft. grumpy “like a mothballed syndrome.

Qantas and other international airlines had also retired their Boeing 747 jumbo at the start of the pandemic, though Project Sunrise saw Qantas acquire 12 A350s, which will fly non-stop from Australia to locations like London and New York.

Professor Rico Merkert, Chair of Transportation and Supply Chain Management at the University of Sydney Business School, says a post-pandemic trend was for narrower-body aircraft. Merkert says the trend for smaller aircraft would also help airlines combat demand-side volatility.

While Merkert says there is no shortage of aircraft, he says staff shortages and training are the “main challenge” as the Australian aviation industry recovers from the pandemic. According to him, however, “all airlines in Australia are recovering” from freight, frequent flyer programs and small to private corporate jets, all of which helped maintain cash flow during the pandemic.

Related: Qantas is confident its post-Covid operations will settle into a new normal within weeks

When will everything be normal?

Tim Ryley, a professor of aviation at Griffith University, believes that “it will take another year or two to achieve some form of stability in the industry, similar to the times before Covid-19.”

Charlton says that “given the turbulence this (northern) summer”, most of the industry is predicting recovery in 2024, but the depth of the projected recession remains an unknown. Merkert, meanwhile, says he’s more optimistic in believing travelers will see improvements early next year, for two reasons.

The first is the rapid rebound of travelers wanting to fly again, with the same airlines surprised by “pent-up demand”. Second, he believes travelers will see improvements in punctuality performance, because airlines are now aware of the problem and their business model depends on it.

Merkert says airlines “know they need to improve, because they want people to be safe to fly again.”

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