Wednesday, 13 April 2005
The first scheduled flights from Sydney, most containing Business passengers and those returning home from holidays, have resumed.
Customs officials are working overtime, with obsolete equipment hurriedly pressed into service to scan the many items of personal luggage and freight that are flowing into, and out of, Kingsford Smith Airport.
"Freight handling may be delayed" said one Customs official, "But we're doing the best that we can with the available resources". He added that consignments of photographic and electronic equipment should be clearly marked as such, as many of the X-ray machines used to scan incoming and outgoing freight were obsolescent and not "film-safe". Modern electronic equipment such as digital cameras, laptop computers and mobile phones were particularly vulnerable, he said, stressing that any damage may not be immediately apparent.
"They may work at first" he said "But could fail at any time."
The Airlines are not happy, and have reportedly put intense political pressure to bear in order to resume normal operations. The short-term loss due to the 24-hour embargo on air travel flowing from Sydney has caused tens of millions of dollars of financial loss, with associated loss of tax revenue for the Government. Some airlines have managed to ameliorate their loss by re-scheduling maintenance in the "down time", but the bulk of the loss won't be covered.
Airport officials refuse to say when they hope that normal service will be resumed, but one official said "it's getting better all the time - it will take as long as it takes."
Meanwhile passengers have faced waits of up to 6 hours between check-in and departure. Priority is being given to those travelling with children, and the elderly or disabled.
All flights so far scheduled have been to the Pacific and USA, though some passengers have been given vouchers for connecting flights to Europe via Los Angeles, and Asia via Hawaii.