Aussie capital cut off from the world

 

Of the many areas of life where COVID-19 has inflicted chaos and uncertainty, air travel has been among the hardest hit.

As the virus began its terrible march across the planet, air travel ground to a halt faster and more drastically than any other industry.

Even though domestic and international flights have started picking up in many parts of the world, global air traffic is still a fraction of its pre-pandemic volume, and isn't projected to return to pre-COVID normal for years.

Not only are there fewer planes in the sky, some flight routes have vanished completely, leaving many formerly well-connected hubs cut off from the rest of the world.

About one third of the world's global air routes have been killed off by COVID-19, and not all are guaranteed to come back, according to a recent report by Bloomberg.

 

 

Prior to the pandemic, there were 47,756 operational air routes. On November 2, there were just 33,416.

Australia, whose international border has been closed since March, except for a recent return of some New Zealand travellers, has not been immune.

Canberra was erased from the international map after Singapore Airlines decided to end flights between the Australian capital and Singapore in September.

"Unfortunately the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry has led to Singapore Airlines having to make the very difficult decision to suspend services to Canberra and Wellington," Singapore Airlines said in a statement at the time.

"This decision is an extremely difficult one considering the dedication and commitment of our staff, and the hard work put in with our partners over the past few years … but it is necessary as we expect travel demand to remain stunted for a long period of time.

 

Canberra has lost its last air link to the rest of the world. Picture: Paul Sadler
Canberra has lost its last air link to the rest of the world. Picture: Paul Sadler

 

"We will carefully review our plans going forward, and make adjustments to our network to meet the changing demand patterns."

Qatar operates a flight between Canberra and Doha but it runs from Sydney.

The only international flights to land at Canberra Airport anytime soon will be two special repatriation services due to arrive by Christmas.

Two other repatriation flights have been the only other action at Canberra's international terminal in months.

Lesser globally known but still vital Australian destinations have felt the pinch too, such as Hervey Bay, which lost its last air link with Sydney when Virgin Australia went into administration in April.

 

 

RELATED: What we can expect from rebooted Virgin Australia

A changed playing field due COVID-19 has also up-ended the list of the world's busiest flight routes.

Last year, Hong Kong-Taipei was the busiest international route with close to eight million seats, or 22,000 seats a day.

This month, due to ongoing travel restrictions and border closures, Hong Kong-Taipei finds itself eighth on the global list, with only 93,922 seats.

Taking out top spot is Cairo-Jeddah, with 147,950 seats this month. But those numbers are still low compared to pre-COVID levels - Bloomberg notes that performance wouldn't even compete with the top 10 US services in a normal year.

Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, told Bloomberg the damage from COVID-19 could be irreparable.

"It will take a good four or five years for connectivity to return to the same level we saw at the end of 2019," said Mr Menon, whose association represents airlines such as Singapore Air, China Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

"Some of these routes may never be put back."

 

 

 

RELATED: Qantas rules out flights to US, UK for another year

Projections on when we can expect international travel to return to pre-COVID levels has been grim, and the timeline keeps moving.

In July the world's leading travel body, the International Air Traffic Association (IATA), said international air travel wouldn't recover until 2024 - a year out from its earlier projection.

The association said uncertainty about the timing of border reopenings is the main factor weighing on international traffic.

Slow coronavirus containment in the United States and developing economies, reduced corporate travel and weak consumer confidence were also blamed for the more pessimistic outlook.

This year, at least 43 airlines have collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic while countless others - including Qantas and Virgin Australia - have been forced to lay off staff, mothball planes in aircraft "graveyards" and make other dramatic cuts to stay afloat.

 

Qantas doesn’t expect to be flying to the US or UK until the end of 2021.
Qantas doesn’t expect to be flying to the US or UK until the end of 2021.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has said European and North American flights would be out of action until the "end of 2021", but the national carrier is hopeful travel bubbles with certain Asian and South Pacific countries would start in the near future.

Speaking at the company's annual general meeting in October, Mr Joyce aid regular UK and US services remained impossible while both regions struggled to contain the virus and there was no vaccine readily available.

"For some of our big destination like the United States and the UK, it's going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations," Mr Joyce said.

"But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021."

 

 

Originally published as Aussie capital cut off from the world


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