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Airlines to get $715m virus rescue package

Australia's ailing airlines will be handed a $715 million federal government lifeline to help the sector through the coronavirus pandemic.

A range of government charges will be refunded and waived to help airlines under immense pressure as domestic and global travel plummets.

The government will forgo fuel excise, air service charges and regional security fees.

The move is expected to create an upfront benefit of $159 million, with the government refunding charges paid since February 1.

Australia's airlines have been rocked by the virus, with massive cuts to services as economic shock ripples through the industry.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the package was designed to put Australia in the best position to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

"Our airlines run on tight budgets at the best of times and these past few weeks have been particularly tough," he said on Wednesday.

"I've been speaking with Australian airline executives every day and will continue to work with them to make sure they receive the support they need."

Virgin Australia has suspended all international flights between March 30 and June 14 and cut its domestic capacity by 50 per cent.

Virgin will operate a reduced international schedule between now and March 29 to enable Australians to return home and visitors to leave the country.

The company's announcement is the equivalent of grounding 53 aircraft.

Qantas on Tuesday announced it would slash its international capacity by 90 per cent and domestic flights by 60 per cent.

Regional carrier Rex has urged government action, warning it could go under unless given help during the tumultuous period.

Shares in Regional Express entered a trading halt on Tuesday pending an announcement to the market.

Singapore-based Jetstar Asia, which is owned by Qantas, has suspended all flights for three weeks from March 23 to April 15.


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