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Australia’s Economic Recovery Reliant On Ground Handling Industry

July 15, 2020 Aviation No Comments Email Email

AUSTRALIA’S economic recovery could be short-lived because vital parts of the aviation industry have been excluded from the Federal Government’s $1 billion industry support package.

Aviation ground operations perform hundreds of tasks at airports including aircraft safety inspections before take-off, managing all aircraft movements on the ground, communicating with control towers, towing aircraft across live runways, cleaning aircraft, providing inflight meals, handling all luggage, operating passenger check-ins, assessing passengers for security threats, matching all flight manifests with passengers onboard for safety and anti-terrorism reasons, operating airline passenger lounges, and driving passengers across tarmacs in buses.

Without the aviation ground handling sector, planes cannot fly.

But the sector has been excluded from the Federal Government’s $1 billion aviation support package, with only airlines qualifying for assistance.

As such, more than 6,000 workers in the aviation ground handling sector could lose their jobs in coming months, burdening Australia with an unnecessary economic handbrake at precisely the time that business, tourism and education sectors need to start traveling again.

The Australian Aviation Ground Handlers Industry Alliance (AAGHIA), is calling on the Federal Government to provide vital support to prevent critical aviation support jobs being lost.

Following the announcement of Qantas’ major restructuring plans, the Federal Government last Thursday confirmed it was working on a second aviation assistance package – again for airlines only.

AAGHIA spokesperson, Oceania Aviation Services Managing Director Bruce Stokes, said the government was turning a blind eye to critical parts of the industry.

“We may not be as well known as the airlines, but we are the ones doing plenty of the heavy lifting. We need clarity and support from government. Without aviation ground handling staff, there are no flights,” Mr Stokes said.

“We acknowledge the Australian Government’s JobKeeper program which has helped sustain thousands of aviation jobs during the current pandemic.

“However, the contraction of the aviation ground handling sector once JobKeeper concludes, and the loss of technical skills, will have a domino effect on the broader economy and curtail national economic growth for months and years longer than necessary.

“The aviation ground handling sector protects Australians from terrorists, illegal narcotics and organised crime, and sustains the $69 billion air transport industry, that directly and indirectly supports 716,000 jobs.

“The sector operates on slim margins so it needs large volumes of aircraft movements to survive.

”While interstate travel restrictions are expected to ease in coming months, forecast domestic travel demand will only return to 50 per cent of capacity by the end of the year, well past the ending of the JobKeeper support package in September 2020.

“By that time, the aviation ground operations sector may have permanently cut thousands of jobs, some of which are highly specialised and technical in nature, in order to carry on.”

Most of the Australian public are unaware that while some airlines retain a limited number of in-house ground handling staff, overwhelmingly these functions are outsourced to independent providers, who often wear airline branded uniforms.

Independent ground handling companies provide all ground services to more than 80% of international flights entering and leaving Australia, along with two-thirds of international cargo.

Mr Stokes said that while some employees have been able to receive the government’s JobKeeper payments in the short-term, the industry currently operates at an unsustainable loss and it is only a matter of time before up to another 6,000 workers join the JobSeeker queue.

“We recognise the Australian Government’s generous $1 billion aviation financial support package, which unfortunately did not extend to the ground handling part of the industry,” he said.

“We assume this was an unintended policy consequence of a worthy initiative to support one of Australia’s most critical industries.

“Like the airlines, we have been particularly hard hit by government restrictions on interstate flights and the abolition of normal international traffic, which has seen flight movements fall by 90 per cent. Owing to our tight margins, the ground handling sector relies on traffic volume to be financially viable.

“We were one of the first industries impacted by the government’s COVID-19 travel restrictions and will be one of the last to re-open.

“We respectfully urge the Australian Government to urgently look at measures to ensure the aviation industry can remain viable and help drive the country’s economic recovery.”

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