Melbourne Airport’s chief executive Lyell Strambi has said he believes Australians are now no longer cancelling flights because of snap lockdowns, and instead simply shifting their plans back.
Strambi made the comments after the airport revealed domestic passenger traffic in March hit 980,364, more than double the 406,960 recorded in February. It came despite Brisbane’s five-day shutdown that occurred at the end of the month, causing nationwide border closures.
“The figures point to strong pent-up demand,” said Strambi. “People clearly want to fly interstate and confidence is growing as COVID outbreaks are managed quickly and effectively in each state.
“At the end of last month Brisbane went through a three-day lockdown and it proved successful in stopping the spread of the virus. Although the lockdown disrupted some travellers, we noticed a shift in travel habits. Rather than passengers cancelling plans all together they’re now adjusting bookings in response to restrictions, which is a welcome change.
“At this stage, April traveller numbers appear to be even stronger than in March, supported by Easter, the school holidays and the return of international arrivals, however, we’re still very much dealing with the pandemic where circumstances could change at any moment.”
The figures mean Melbourne Airport’s March results are just 21 per cent lower than 12 months ago.
They also tally with the results recorded at Sydney, where domestic passenger traffic increased 80 per cent in March to cross the million mark for the first time since the COVID pandemic.
Brisbane entered its snap lockdown, triggering border closures, at 5pm on Monday, 29 March and it lasted to midday on Thursday, 1 April.
The news brings hope that both airports could recover to near pre-COVID performance in April, given the start of the government’s program to supplement 800,000 half-price airfares.
Already, more than three-quarters of the cheap airfares have been sold, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan predicting the remaining 200,000 flights would “go like hot cakes”.
Domestic aviation has been pinning its recovery hopes on the federal government’s plan to supplement airfares for passengers to 15 destinations including the Gold Coast, Alice Springs and Kangaroo Island. It follows the end of JobKeeper last month.
On Sunday, the federal government issued a statement to the media stating it would “continue to review this program”, including routes and ticket numbers, raising hope it could be extended or expanded.
The success of the initiative allowed Qantas and Jetstar to announce they would soon be flying more aircraft on their domestic routes than before than pandemic and rivals Virgin to commit to hiring 150 new cabin crew and leasing 10 new 737s,
“The Australian government’s half-price fares program is having a direct and indirect impact on the sector,” said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce on Thursday. “The direct response to the program has been fantastic, with over 250,000 fares sold in the first two weeks.”
The flag carrier is able to fly more aircraft within Australia because Jetstar will deploy six Airbus A320s on loan from Jetstar Japan.
The business also plans to shift five of its 787-8s, usually flown on international routes, to the domestic market from mid-year.