Following the announcement last week that Virgin Australia has become the latest company to fall victim to the COVID-19 crisis, many have been left wondering what it will mean for Australia’s aviation industry.
Australia has a century of air travel and aviation to refer to when trying to decipher the current situation, with Qantas celebrating its 100th birthday this year and the centenary of the introduction of government-regulated civil aviation in 2021.
The University of Canberra’s Professor Tracy Ireland specialises in cultural heritage, and is currently the Lead Chief Investigator for the Australian Research Council funded project Heritage of the Air – a project that aims to tell a story about how aviation has changed the lives of ordinary people in Australia.
Along with her colleagues on the research project, Tracy has taken a keen interest in the Virgin Australia collapse and how the outcome of their voluntary administration may correlate with similar past events – like the Ansett collapse in 2001.
“The entire global situation with the pandemic and its impact on the aviation industry will be one of the greatest impacts on our society,” Tracy said.
“We will see a lot of changes within that industry in the next few years.”
Tracy says that Ansett’s collapse in 2001 had a significant impact on the lives and mental health of staff who lost jobs. Aside from financial security, Tracy believes this also comes as a result of airline workers having a passion for aviation and an emotional commitment and loyalty to the airline they work for. She fears that if Virgin does go under, we could see a repeat of those issues.
“Most people who work in aviation do so because they really love it,” she says.
“Some of us in the team have personal connections to people who lost their job in the collapse of Ansett. It was the emotional impact we saw in those connections that really got us interested in the developments with Virgin.”
“There were very sad and very serious implications for the staff of Ansett following their collapse and I sincerely hope we don’t see similar affects this time around.”
Airline workers are often away from home and spending vast amounts of time with colleagues.
“Virgin Australia has 16,000 employees. That’s a huge number of people to not only be out of a job, but who will then have to make radical changes to their lives.”
Australia is unique in its need for a diverse aviation industry. Given the size of our land mass and remote location in the world, the options for other forms of travel are limited. To travel efficiently, there needs to be choices for consumers when it comes to airlines and routes.
“We in Australia absolutely need an aviation industry. Life as we know it can’t really go on without one – it would be a different life,” Tracy says.
“As Australians, we have a huge vested interest in airlines coming out of the pandemic financially viable.”
As well as our need for broad options, Australians’ travel preferences differ from the rest of the world.
“A majority of air travel in Australia is coming from business needs rather than leisure,” Tracy says.
“The route between Melbourne and Sydney, for example, is one of the most profitable in the world because of the sheer number of business travelers that do day-trips between those cities.”
Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, Tracy says things will certainly be different.
“It will be interesting to see how the aviation industry is changed by these unforeseen events and also how Australians change and adapt their travel habits.”
Words by Elly Mackay.