Virgin Australia is set to match Qantas and return to 60 per cent of pre-COVID domestic capacity by January after significantly increasing the number of flights between NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
Return frequencies by Christmas will increase to six per day between Melbourne and Brisbane; nine per day between Sydney and Brisbane; and twice daily between Newcastle and Brisbane.
In total, the airline has added a further 78,000 weekly seats between the three states by January 2021, after they finally opened to each other on Tuesday.
Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans said the border opening was “terrific” for Queensland tourism operators who have “done it tough over the past four months”.
“From hotels, theme parks and cafes, to travellers and our people, everyone involved with Sunshine State tourism will be celebrating what is a fantastic day for Australia’s domestic recovery,” said Evans.
It comes as Qantas and Jetstar said last week its flying schedule will rebound to 60 per cent of pre-COVID levels and it would add an extra 1,200 return flights into Queensland from NSW and Victoria.
On Tuesday, the first flights into Brisbane Airport were a Qantas Boeing 737-838, VH-VZW msn 39359, which departed Sydney at 6:35am as flight QF502 and landed at 6:32am local time; and a Virgin Boeing 737-8FE, VH-YFX msn 41013, which departed at 7:12am as flight VA309 and landed at 8:04am.
Premier Palaszczuk had repeatedly stated that she would only open her state up to areas that have recorded a month without so-called community transmission – that is cases of COVID where no source of the infection can be traced.
Those rules meant Queensland opened up to NSW on 10 July but closed to Sydney on 1 August and then to all of NSW and the ACT again a week later. Despite opening for a second time to the ACT on 25 September and NSW on 20 October, the city of Sydney was excluded.
While the borders were always open to essentials travellers, they were effectively closed for all mainstream commercial flying.
The bizarre restrictions meant those from Sydney could potentially travel to Queensland but had to first spend 14 days outside the city. Travellers could also fly from Sydney Airport but couldn’t stop anywhere in the city en route.
Premier Palaszczuk said the decision was made after “extensive conversations” between her chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young, and NSW’s counterpart.
Queensland’s Deputy Premier, Steven Miles, called the announcement “a great day for Australia”.
In October, Australian Aviation revealed that Queensland’s continued refusal to open its borders to Sydney caused the latter’s domestic passenger traffic to flatline in September after plunging 70 per cent the previous month.
In a statement to the ASX, Sydney Airport said it welcomed 98,000 passengers in September, up only slightly from 91,000 in August and down significantly from 276,000 in July.
Sydney Airport also revealed it welcomed 34,000 international passengers in September, down slightly from 39,000 in August.