MIAMI – “Lockdown extended for South East Queensland.” “Lockdown extended for Sydney and parts of New South Wales.” These headlines emphasize the severity of the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in Australia. And now that resurgence is affecting the airline industry.

In a press release today, Qantas Group (QF) says that it will “stand down” approximately 2,500 crew members in response to a decline in passengers. Specifically, the decline is due to “COVID restrictions in Greater Sydney in particular and the knock-on border closures in all other states and territories.”

The Qantas Groups says it expects the furloughs to last two months. It emphasizes that it expects no job losses.

Most affected will be domestic pilots, cabin crew, and airport workers, mostly in New South Wales. However, those in other states will be furloughed, too, given the nature of airline networks. Qantas will give employees two weeks’ notice before the stand down takes effect. Their pay will continue until mid-August.

Those who lose their jobs will be eligible to receive government disaster payments. Targeted federal government support will assist those furloughed outside of declared coronavirus hot spots.

Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner : Photo ; Johann Heske/Airways

CEO Comments

“This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we’re now faced with an extended period of reduced flying, and that means no work for a number of our people,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. “We’ve absorbed a significant amount of cost since these recent lockdowns started and continued paying our people their full rosters despite thousands of cancelled flights.

“Qantas and Jetstar have gone from operating almost 100 per cent of their usual domestic flying in May to less than 40 per cent in July because of lockdowns in three states. Hopefully, once other states open back up to South Australia and Victoria in the next week or so, and we bring the current outbreak in Brisbane under control, our domestic flying will come back to around 50 to 60 per cent of normal levels.”

Joyce goes on to say that current data suggest that Sydney’s borders will be closed for another two months. Once the virus is under control it typically takes an additional 2-3 weeks before restrictions are eased so that travel can resume.

“This is extremely challenging for the 2,500 of our people directly impacted, but it’s also very different from this time last year when we had more than 20,000 employees stood down and most of our aircraft in hibernation for months on end.”

At this time, the Australian government is aggressively promoting vaccination.

“The vaccine rollout means the end is in sight and the concept of lockdowns will be a thing of the past,” Joyce added. “Australia just needs more people rolling up their sleeves as more vaccine arrives.”

Featured image: Qantas VH-VXB B737-800. Photo: Aidan Pullino/Airways