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New South Wales To Require Non-Qantas Crews To Quarantine In Hotels

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International airline crew turning around in Sydney will now have to spend their layovers in police guarded quarantine hotels. It follows a serious breach of protocols by a LATAM crew earlier in December and a small spike in COVID-19 cases on Sydney’s northern beaches.

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Airline crew on layovers in Sydney will face a tough new regime. Photo: Getty Images

Airline crew directed to stay in designated crew hotels

To date, the relaxed quarantine arrangements for international airline crew have been a weak point in Australia’s otherwise stringent border and quarantine rules. All other arrivals have to spend 14-days under guard in a guarded quarantine hotel. But recognizing the special nature of the airline business, the New South Wales Government has allowed airlines to make their own arrangements. They’ve merely ask crews to self-isolate in hotels of the airline’s choosing until their flight out. But now, that’s going to change.

“The issue isn’t the guidelines we have in place,” said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “It’s, unfortunately, a few occasions when people have breached the guidelines or chosen not to self-isolate when they should have.”

In early December, 13 overnighting LATAM crew broke the protocols. The crew left their Sydney Airport hotel and visited a variety of hospitality and other venues. New South Wales Police were notified, and almost US$10,000 in fines were issued to the crew members.

“At this stage, the usual protocol is that aircrew go to their designated hotel, depending on where their airline takes them. There are 25 or 26 hotels where the aircrew are located, which makes it very difficult to police,” said the New South Wales Premier.

“From Tuesday (December 22), there will be two designated hotels for all aircrew. It does put pressure on those airlines, but we have to consider the right balance.”

Health officials and New South Wales Police will be onsite at the hotels to ensure crews on layovers do not leave their rooms.

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Around 2,000 international airline crew each week land in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images

The decision to impact around 2,000 airline crew every week

Despite a downturn in traffic, around 2,000 international airline crew land in Sydney every week. According to the New South Wales Department of Health, most crews have turnarounds of up to 72 hours.

The issue isn’t impacting Qantas International, which is only running a few repatriation flights over January. A Qantas spokesperson told Simple Flying any relevant crew self-isolate at home for 14-days following a flight and will continue to do so. Qantas says it has strict protocols in place to ensure the well-being of its crew and the community.

Air New Zealand, who have continued to fly into Australia throughout 2020, told Simple Flying their crews do not usually overnight in Australia. The crew on Air New Zealand flights to either Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane stay airside while the plane is getting turned around. The airline says that for flights between Sydney and Brisbane and Norfolk Island, and the freight service between Brisbane and Los Angeles, aircrew stay in their hotel at all times during the layover and travel to and from the hotels in dedicated crew transport.

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International Qantas crews will be allowed to keep self-isolating at home. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/JFKJets.com

Some disquiet behind the scenes?

The New South Wales Government says it is taking this step following discussions with the airlines still flying into Sydney. These are primarily the Gulf carriers, the three big US airlines, and various airlines from Asia. Simple Flying has contacted several airlines and they are broadly supportive of steps taken to manage the spread of COVID-19.

But there are unconfirmed reports that some airlines and many crew are unhappy with the new regime. Some suggest mixing crew from high-risk countries with crew from low-risk countries in one hotel is a health hazard. Airlines also have contracts with certain hotels to accommodate their crews. There may be a cost incurred in breaking contracts and it is queried whether the New South Wales Government will cover any costs incurred. There is a live concern some airlines will suspend their flights to Sydney until the layover regime converts back to international norms.

The Victorian Government has also advised that aircrew turning around in Melbourne will soon face a similar set of rules. Simple Flying has contacted the Victorian Government to get a start date. However, we have not heard back before publication deadline. Further, there is an exception the new regime in Sydney will soon get rolled out around Australia.

What do you think? Is this a step too far or simply a sensible precaution? Post a comment and let us know.



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