End of another Australian airline era
I remember in 2020 getting lots of emails from frequent flyer programs, despite the fact that the local airport was shut and nobody was allowed to actually fly out of Melbourne. These emails tell were informing me of numerous cheap flights I could book with my now close to useless frequent flyer points, if only there was any flights actually running that I could spend these on. Going to an actual booking site showed a vastly different situation with almost no flight options with many likely cancellations if you booked one of the few flights that were actually scheduled.
Edit: I wrote this post in August 2020, this was a time when the airline industry was basically grounded. It was also a time of mass-formation psychosis where there was a very singular focus on the pandemic.
End of another Australian airline era - August 2020
It seems that more has happened since the last airline article I wrote about the restructuring of Virgin Airlines Australia than I would have expected. National fears around a Covid19 second wave have intensified as Melbourne has gone into much stricter lock down and the amount of interstate travel has decreased fairly substantially. The hassle for travellers has increased substantially in this time.
The last article I wrote was just after Virgin Australia went into Administration (local equivalent of USA's chapter 11) looking for a buyer. Since then it's taken quite some time for any movement to happen on a sale. It seems as though Bain Capital was interested for a while. In the interim Virgin Atlantic also went under. Despite sharing a brand name those two airlines are far less connected than it would appear. As I talked about previously the "Virgin" branded products have very diverse ownership with a minority of it actually being the parent Virgin Group these days. I realized this a while back when I saw that the frequent flyer points weren't pooled for both of those brands. That's because Velocity Frequent Flyer is not actually owned by Virgin Australia and is a separate company, which is why it didn't go into administration at the same time Virgin Australia did. So the frequent flyer points still exists despite there being no flights. I wouldn't have been surprised to see them rebrand and drop the flight related branding entirely.
As I've mentioned previously Virgin Australia had troubles brewing before Covid was a thing, but since then people have narrowly attributed the pandemic to the airlines demise. But things have definitely got dramatically worse for all the other the local airlines since that last post.
There was the story of the woman who flew from Melbourne to the Gold Cost as the only passenger on her flight. She then was escorted by police to a mandatory 2 week quarantine in a hotel that she then had to cover the costs of. You may be wondering how such flights are being run at all at the moment, and it basically comes down to those flights being a government subsidized means for enabling essential travel and carrying some freight. Without the flight volumes being high we saw a massive increase in time for airmail to be sent since much airmail was being sent on these flights.
Even if the demand was already low due to people having to foot the costs of their quarantine stays things got even worse for the airlines.
With many state governments getting increasingly paranoid about facing the situation that Melbourne faced much interstate travel was completely shut down. Early on however, before the "second wave" in Melbourne, Western Australia took a stricter approach to keeping its borders closed. Even as case numbers dropped in the middle of the year Western Australia kept its borders shut since the state had minimal Covid cases and substantially reopened its economy and wished to keep it that way. A legal challenge by Clive Palmer against the WA travel ban has galvanised public opinion and since the situation in Melbourne deteriorated the overwhelming popular sentiment at the height of the pandemic was not in favor of air travel opening up again. This forms a test for the separation of powers because there may be a constitutional case against the travel bans but political sentiment is against Clive Palmer and that has led to challenges to the separation of powers somewhat. Some have commented that the legal challenge to the travel ban was perhaps being used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing $30 billion case that his company Mineralogy had against the WA government. The WA government has reacted by creating special purpose legislation to block the claim, how the WA government could be liable for an amount close to it's annual budget in relation to ores in the ground that belong to the nation in the first place is a question that the populace deserves answers to. Political maneuvering and realpolitiking aside this shows that popular sentiment is mostly revolving around the pandemic even if this means extraordinary legal situations occur and longstanding conventions are abandoned. The general position taken across the nation is thus keeping passenger flights mostly grounded due to the fear of having a Melbourne like situation occur somewhere else.
Internationally there was talk of a trans-Tasman travel bubble, but since the situation in Melbourne deteriorated it seems like Victoria might not be included in that and the general idea keeps getting delayed. Also since then New Zealand has recorded new cases of Covid19 in the community after multiple months of no known cases. All these events are particularly terrible news for Air New Zealand given that the government is attempting to maintain a covid-zero-case policy.
During this time private aviation has been more popular than before, with many of the rich and powerful turning to private aviation to be able to continue flying in the absence of commercial flight options. The public is increasingly unhappy with celebrities and others getting special treatment with regards to quarantine arrangements, negativity is at an all time high and political sentiment may start to interfere with private aviation too at this rate.
Tiger air seems to have not survived in the Australian market, closing its operations on 25th March 2020. I remember many times waiting for these planes, more than one waiting long times at the airport. This was an airline that was infamous for delays.
Qantas had the last flight of its iconic Boeing 747 planes, tracing out a unique flight path on the way to the aircraft boneyards in the desert:
The 747 while an iconic model it is getting increasingly out of date. Newer designs have better fuel efficiency and fuel has become a bigger expense.
The 747 still sees some uses though like we saw with the testing for the Virgin Orbit spacecraft as a launch platform using a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl. This plane lifts the payload to a higher height before launching it. While an icon of a previous era of travel it might be part of bringing in a new one. I do find it amusing that Virgin space is around as a brand even when lower altitude brands are going under.
Looking back from 2023
It's interesting to reflect on how much has changed over these last 3 years, my writing at the time showed the negativity regarding the airline industry here.
It seems as though some of these brands ended up surviving and flights are running again in Australia. My trip to the 2023 Airshow showed me that a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm for aviation still exists in Australia.
People aren't travelling around as much as they used to which is probably in part due to the economic devastation that was unloaded on people from the pandemic response. The actual pandemic ended up being far less deadly than the what people in Melbourne were repeatedly told in 2020. Given the lack of severity for health consequences for many people (so far) the pandemic ended up being far more economically damaging to the average person than many people would have expected. There's also been a big shift towards working from home and teleconferencing which has meant that a considerable amount of business travel has been rendered unnecessary. This will cause some difficulties for the airlines because business travel was an important source of income for them.
Soon I'll be flying for a business trip again, the first time in over 3 years. This marks another return to normalcy although I'm glad to not be flying as much as I had to before. Meeting people onsite is crucially important and really can't be done over the phone, but on the other hand flying for multiple hours to do a one hour meeting might be a thing of the past.
Also it appears that Virgin Orbit has followed some of its lower altitude brands and is now close to insolvency too. This came after a launch failure where they were attempting to launch to space from the UK. This video explains what went wrong with the "start me up" mission.