Australia may change airline routes to avoid SARS threat


SYDNEY: Australia is talking with major airlines and the Singapore government about changing routes this northern winter to avoid an industry crisis if there is another Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the tourism minister said yesterday.  

“What we need to do is shore up alternate routes to Australia through non-SARS-affected nations,” Joe Hockey told commercial television. 

“I think we need to be realistic and recognise that SARS will hit Asia again this northern winter and Australia has to as far as it can inoculate itself against the risk of further tourism downturn. 

“We have got to look at other markets and direct flights to Australia from non-SARS-affected nations such as Japan, the United States and obviously the New Zealand market is a very important market for us.” 

He said Singapore, which this week confirmed a new case of SARS, was the most significant route between Australia and Europe. 

Hockey said he had spoken to Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other officials about the issue recently. 

Hockey said diverting flights through the Gulf region was an option, made more attractive by the increased presence of Dubai-based Emirates Airline in Australasia. 

“But again, you have got alternate routes within Asia. You have got Bangkok. There is a stopover in Hong Kong ... the potential arrival of Virgin Atlantic into Australia via Hong Kong is also important,” Hockey said. 

 

Australia's tourism industry, which accounted for around 500,000 jobs, was battered by the SARS outbreak earlier this year. 

 

May was hardest hit with inbound tourists down 22.5% during the same period last year as travellers cancelled or postponed flights because they were scared of contracting the virus which infected more than 8,000 people and killed more than 900 worldwide. – AFP 

For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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