Sydney Airport’s domestic passenger traffic trebled in February as COVID clusters receded and borders began to open.
The business revealed the numbers travelling through were 596,000, up significantly from 196,000 in January and close to the post-COVID December high of 659,000.
It comes despite Melbourne’s snap five-day lockdown that occurred in the middle of the month.
“The recovery in domestic passenger traffic from January was driven by unrestricted travel between all states and territories from late February,” said the business in a statement to the ASX.
However, a small outbreak in Sydney meant that by 21 December, the city was locked out from the rest of the country.
This was followed by Brisbane entering a three-day lockdown on Friday, 8 January and then Melbourne a five-day lockdown on 13 February.
Currently, there are few border restrictions in Australia, with WA, the strictest state, declaring all other states and territories as “very low risk”.
News of rising passenger numbers will be seen as a vindication of the federal government’s plan to supplement 800,000 half-price airfares from April as part of a new $1.2 billion package for the aviation industry when JobKeeper ends.
The deal will cover 46,600 discounted fares per week to 13 tourism destinations such as the Gold Coast, Alice Springs and Kangaroo Island.
It will also include cheap loans to small business coming off JobKeeper, wage subsidies for 8,600 international aviation employees and a six-month extension of the ‘RANS’ and ‘DANS’ supplemented routes initiative.
Reacting to the news, both the Australian Airports Association (AAA) and Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ) industry groups said state premiers must also do their bit by resisting border closures.
“Once the half-price airfares go on sale on 1 April, the first phase of the government’s vaccination program should be complete, which means there should be no reason for states and territories to close their borders,” said AAA chief executive James Goodwin. “In order for this support package to work, the premiers must agree to put an end to these knee-jerk reactions which have resulted in major setbacks for our sector’s recovery.”
A4ANZ chairman Graeme Samuel said the “lack of consistency” on borders had eroded confidence.
“The announcement of an incentive-based program to stimulate air travel demand and support the broader tourism sector will need to be matched by a unified approach on domestic borders,” said Samuel.
Sydney Airport also announced 27,000 international passengers passed through the airport in February, consistent with 33,000 the month prior.