Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia will resume flights on a limited domestic schedule starting today but with social distancing on board.
In an email sent to customers on Thursday, Virgin confirmed a deal had been struck with the Australian Government.
“Virgin Australia is pleased to respond to a request from the Australian Government to resume flying an underwritten, minimal domestic schedule, to transport passengers and keep important freight corridors open during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the email read.
“The schedule will commence Friday 17 April 2020 and run for a period of eight weeks, until 7 June 2020.”
Domestic flights are expected to go on sale in addition to international repatriation flights already operating from Australia to Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
News.com.au understands passengers will be eligible to fly if they need to return home or are an essential traveller.
Qantas and Jetstar will also form part of the “minimum domestic and regional network” the government is supporting.
A Qantas spokesman said passenger flights will increase from 105 per week currently to 164 per week to all capital cities and 36 regional destinations.
“While travel restrictions mean most passenger flights are not commercially viable at the moment, there remains a need for some essential travel – particularly given the distances between most Australian cities.
“These flights will also provide critical freight capacity, which has fallen significantly as commercial air networks have shrunk. Much of the bellyspace on these flights will be used for mail and other urgent shipments, including medical equipment.
“The temporary regional network focuses on towns that are more than two hours’ drive from key transport hubs.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the move was about ensuring essential workers including frontline medical and defence workers were able to travel.
It will also enable the movement of crucial freight like medicine and personal protective equipment.
“We know that a strong domestic aviation network is critical to Australia’s success and today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment, yet again, to maintaining connectivity during this pandemic,” Mr McCormack said on Thursday night.
“This investment will also help Australians returning from overseas, who find themselves in a different city after 14 days of mandatory quarantine, complete their journey home safely.”
Qantas said it appreciates the Federal Government support and the risk of people contracting the virus on flights is low, however, “social distancing has been put in place across all flights.”
“Similarly, on-board service will be a scaled-back version of what would normally apply, with cabin crew focused on in-flight safety and they will wear personal protective equipment.
The limited domestic schedule will include as many as seven flights a week each way between Australia’s major capital cities.
It comes after Queensland Health was tracing those on board a Sydney to Brisbane flight on Easter Monday where a passenger was infectious with COVID-19.
It follows doubts about the future viability of Virgin Australia amid pleas for a $1.4 billion bailout from the government.
Fares can be booked as normal but will remain subject to state quarantine rules.
It covers flights from all state and territory capitals, along with Albury, Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Kalgoorlie, Mildura, Port Lincoln, Rockhampton, Tamworth, Townsville and Wagga Wagga.
The new arrangements will last for eight weeks with the government set to undertake a review which will determine if more support is needed. The announcement is well short of the $1.4 billion government bailout Virgin is hunting to stay alive.
– With AAP