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Airlines Threaten to Suspend Service to Melbourne Over New Crew Testing Rules

Airlines Threaten to Suspend Service to Melbourne Over New Crew Testing Rules

A number of international airlines are said to be up in arms over new Coronavirus testing rules for flight crew that could see pilots, flight attendants and multi-million-dollar aircraft stuck on the ground at Melbourne’s Tullamarine International Airport for weeks. United Airlines, Japan Airlines and Royal Brunei are said to be most concerned about the rules according to sources cited by the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We could be leaving a very expensive piece of metal on the ground,” said one airline source who spoke with the newspaper on condition of anonymity. “We are seriously questioning if we continue operating to Melbourne,” the source continued. The airline in question was not revealed.

Health officials in the Australian state of Victoria recently strengthed COVID-19 protocols for international aircrew following high-profile breaches by some international crew in the state of New South Wales. Flight attendants and pilots will now have to go into government-run hotel quarantine during their layovers in Melbourne, mirroring a similar policy implemented in Sydney.

Aircrew will also need to have a COVID-19 test before flying to Melbourne and, controversially, health officials will now make crew take a second test before they are allowed to leave hotel quarantine for their return flights home.

Any crew who return a positive result will be placed into mandatory 14-day quarantine and, as close contacts, their colleagues could also be placed into isolation. The rule change could effectively leave aircraft stranded on the ground because there isn’t any crew able to operate it.

The rule change was announced several days after a Qatar Airways flight attendant tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne. The other members of the crew were, however, allowed to return to Doha on a cargo-only flight to complete their quarantine in Qatar.

Victoria’s Coronavirus health chief Jeroen Weimar said that he realised the new testing rules would present a “logistical challenge” for airlines but the state wasn’t prepared to negotiate with airlines describing aircrew as a “significant risk”.

Weimar did concede that the preference was to quarantine all crew after a positive diagnosis but that the state would be open to negotiating with airlines – leaving open the possibility of immediate repatriation so long as the flight operates without passengers.

Other airlines currently operating non-stop flights to Melbourne include Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.

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