Coronavirus restrictions and border closures has forced Canberra Airport to close on Saturdays, landing a serious blow for businesses that rely on the aviation industry and tourism.
Airport management made the decision to only operate six days a week after reporting a 99 per cent drop in passengers.
The Saturday closure will start today, and run until the first of October, at which point management said it would reassess the situation.
If matters had not improved by then, the airport said it would consider closing for at least one other day, and overnight, throughout the week.
That decision will have an immediate knock-on effect on many businesses, including the already depleted taxi industry.
Where there used to be a long row of taxis waiting at the arrivals gate, already the ranks are empty.
Since border closures were enforced, there have been reports of some drivers waiting longer than three hours before getting their first fare.
Managing director at Canberra Elite Taxis Mark Bramston said it was a tough time for many.
“The airport is a major part of our business,” Mr Bramston said.
“With traveller numbers dropping dramatically at the airport, work for the taxi industry is down about 95 per cent.”
In August last year, the company recorded more than 17,000 fares from the airport.
It is now down to less than 500, and Mr Bramston said it was sure to drop further.
“We have got less than half the fleet on the road at the moment,” Mr Bramston said.
At its lowest, the company has had just 43 cars on the road over the course of a day, and office-based staff have had to go on JobKeeper.
Pets and their owners no longer leaving home
Monaro Dog Park Boarding is usually packed full of dogs waiting for their owners to return from holiday.
But with border closures and limited air travel, people are staying at home — which means their pets are as well.
Josh Marchant, who runs the kennel, said business had plunged, and feared it would continue to worsen.
“Around Easter is one of our biggest times,” he said.
“We had zero dogs in over that month, so that was a big hit.”
The business is utilising JobKeeper as well, and Mr Marchant said that was helping keep them afloat.
“Last August we averaged 40 to 50 dogs over the month, averaging about four to five days each,” he said.
“This month we’ve had 10 dogs in, so far averaging about two to three days each.”
‘There will be no flying for anyone’
Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron warned the airport could close altogether if borders did not open by April next year, and called for a national plan to restart the aviation industry.
“The 99 per cent shut down of aviation is unnecessary, it is draconian, it is destructive and the fact that it is going to stay permanent until the middle of next year means that there will be no flying for anyone,” he said.
Mr Byron urged other jurisdictions to accept ACT-only residents, and said there were ways to make sure Canberra would not be used as a “back door” for travellers from other states.
“If they wanted to open their borders for ACT residents only, then we would support that,” he said.
“That could be by way of an ACT driver’s licence check — but we would prefer the borders to be fully open.”
Mr Bramston agreed, and called for flights to restart under a management plan that mitigated risk.
“We have got to find a way to get people back to work,” he said.
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