Qantas Cuts International Flights As Travel Demand Falls Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Qantas Cuts International Flights As Travel Demand Falls Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Qantas axes all international flights

Qantas will ground all its international flights and temporarily stand down two-thirds of its 30,000 staff until the end of May.

The cutbacks, announced this morning, come as Australia's biggest airline reels from a massive downturn in travel due to coronavirus.

Qantas international flights will be suspended from the end of March until May and domestic services will be cut by 60 per cent.

About 20,000 Qantas and Jetstar staff will be stood down during that time. Qantas said in a statement to the ASX this morning the decision was made to "preserve as many jobs as possible longer term".

It's understood staff will be able to use annual and long service leave but some staff will have to endure leave without pay.

"Employees with low leave balances at the start of the stand down will be able to access up to four weeks' leave in advance of earning it," the statement from Qantas said.

"Unfortunately, periods of leave without pay for some employees are inevitable."

It follows Virgin Australia announcing yesterday it was suspending all its international services due to coronavirus.

Yesterday, the federal government announced a $715 million lifeline to help the Australia's ailing airlines through the coronavirus pandemic. A range of government charges will be refunded and waived to help airlines under immense pressure as domestic and global travel plummets.

The government will forgo fuel excise, air service charges and regional security fees.

The move is expected to create an upfront benefit of $159 million, with the government refunding charges paid since February 1.

Australia's airlines have been rocked by the virus, with massive cuts to services as economic shock ripples through the industry.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the package was designed to put Australia in the best position to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. "Our airlines run on tight budgets at the best of times and these past few weeks have been particularly tough," he said on Wednesday.

"I've been speaking with Australian airline executives every day and will continue to work with them to make sure they receive the support they need." Virgin Australia has suspended all international flights between March 30 and June 14 and cut its domestic capacity by 50 per cent.

Virgin will operate a reduced international schedule between now and March 29 to enable Australians to return home and visitors to leave the country. The company's announcement is the equivalent of grounding 53 aircraft. Qantas on Tuesday announced it would slash its international capacity by 90 per cent and domestic flights by 60 per cent.

Regional carrier Rex has urged government action, warning it could go under unless given help during the tumultuous period.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said Mr McCormack had worked closely with the airlines to design the package.

"The fact it's retrospective gives us an immediate cash benefit as we deal with falling revenue, and it's sized according to each airline," he said. "There are some tough weeks and possibly months ahead, but our focus is on getting through that so we're ready to help with the recovery on the other side."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he understood airlines were seeking assurances from the government in regard to bank loan arrangements. "One of the things that's important for the airlines is that people have the confidence to be able to book on an airline, knowing that that airline is secure in terms of its future," he said.

Transport Workers Union secretary Michael Kaine warned waving fees for airlines would not save jobs.

"The package announced last night is what you get when you only talk to well- paid airline executives and refuse to speak to the wider industry or workers," he said.

"The window of opportunity to act in aviation, which is our critical gateway to the globe, is closing fast." Mr Kaine said companies representing thousands of baggage handlers, ramp workers, caterers, cleaners, drivers, cabin crew and security personnel are facing a tough challenge.

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