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‘Never experienced anything like this’: Brisbane Airport boss on COVID collapse

“I have never experienced anything like this before,” Mr de Graaff said.

“We always thought our biggest risk was to lose one of two big airlines like Virgin,” he said.

“But we have lost them all.”

BAC charges carriers to use its facilities and is a major creditor to Virgin Australia, which is still in administration despite investment firm Bain Capital’s offer to buy the airline being accepted on Friday.

“Virgin 1.0 owes us quite a bit of money,” Mr de Graaff said.

“When they went into administration, that is when we couldn’t access that money anymore.

“So we will see what comes out of the administration process.”

Virgin Australia is a major creditor to Brisbane Airport Corporation, which has borrowed an additional $1.5 billion.

Virgin Australia is a major creditor to Brisbane Airport Corporation, which has borrowed an additional $1.5 billion.Credit:AAP

Mr de Graaff said the corporation had been forced to seek additional funding.

“You might have seen that we went to the financial markets to secure funding, and we secured over $1.5 billion,” he said.

“That is because there is currently not much coming in, and because we are an infrastructure company, the money is still going out.

As an airport, the busines could not simply “go into hibernation”.

“We don’t want to close Brisbane; we don’t want to close south-east Queensland,” he said.

“So we still have security people, still have people maintaining the facilities, we still have the Flying Doctors, we still have the repatriation flights.

“So we could never just stop.”

A week ago, the Australian government accepted the COVIDSafe plan put together by all Australian airports, which – before Victoria’s dramatic COVID-19 spike – gave airlines hope that domestic flights could resume.

Mr de Graaff said BAC was “cautiously optimistic” about domestic flights resuming, but wary of the increasing number of cases in Victoria.

BAC chief executive Gert-Jan de Graaff with parallel runway project director Paul Coughlan.

BAC chief executive Gert-Jan de Graaff with parallel runway project director Paul Coughlan.Credit:BAC

“Until last Friday, we thought we were pretty close to opening up the borders because we seemed to have COVID-19 under control in all states,” he said. “The Victorian spike now puts that at risk.”

On Saturday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was very wary of the spike in Victoria and said that on Tuesday she would announce Queensland’s position on reopening the borders.

But Mr de Graaff said despite Queensland and Australia being attractive holiday destinations, people were reluctant to fly here.

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“People are not going to voluntarily go for two weeks in quarantine, which they have to pay for themselves, in a three-week vacation,” he said.

“That is just not going to happen.”

Mr de Graaff said it would take several years for BAC to recover from the COVID-19 downturn.

“It is still very early days to look into the crystal ball, but we believe that in 2023 or 2024, things could look very much like 2019,” he said.

The Dutch airport executive has worked in the aviation industry for 25 years at five airports on four continents, and co-ordinated Brisbane’s new runway, which, in better times, would now be a major boon to the city.

“2020 was going to be a stellar year for us,” he said.

“Qantas announced the new San Francisco flights; Virgin announced new flights to Tokyo.

“There were a lot of exciting things happening before this whole COVID-19 derailed our plans to a large degree.”

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