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Trans-Tasman bubble trebles Sydney international traffic

written by Adam Thorn | June 21, 2021
Qantas 737s parked at Sydney Airport, as shot by Victor Pody
Qantas 737s parked at Sydney Airport, as shot by Victor Pody

The launch of the trans-Tasman bubble led Sydney Airport’s international passenger traffic to hit nearly 90,000 in May.

The numbers are almost triple the 33,000 who passed through two months previously, and come despite the brief pause in the arrangement that month.

Quarantine-free travel first began on 19 April with Qantas and Jetstar operating at 83 per cent of their pre-COVID capacity and Air New Zealand targeting more than 300 flights per week from Australia into New Zealand.

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Sydney Airport also revealed domestic passenger numbers remained steady despite Victoria’s snap lockdown, with 1,347,000 travelling through in May compared with 1,489,000 in April.

The new figures mean Sydney Airport domestic travel is at 60 per cent of 2019 pre-pandemic levels but just 7 per cent for international travel.

Australian Aviation last week reported how Melbourne Airport chief executive Lyell Strambi argued repeatedly extending COVID restrictions has a far greater impact on passenger demand than one-off snap lockdowns.

Melbourne welcomed 1,200,000 domestic passengers in May, only slightly lower than April’s 1,400,000. The numbers would likely have been the same or higher without the snap lockdown.

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“Ultimately, passengers need time and confidence to plan their travel,” said Strambi. “Short, sharp interventions can be recovered but when they are extended, other states and territories tread cautiously before reopening again.”

The words came as the business revealed the latest COVID restrictions, first introduced on 28 May, caused domestic seat capacity to fall by more than 60 per cent at the end of the month compared with the start.

“Victorians are showing great confidence in interstate travel, which is really pleasing,” said Strambi. “In fact, just last month we were welcoming around 65 per cent of our pre-COVID passenger levels thanks to open domestic borders and the New Zealand travel bubble.

“But as we know, certainty during COVID can prove fleeting, with Victoria’s most recent lockdown causing states and territories to introduce fresh travel bans on Melbourne.

“Lockdowns have proven effective as a health measure, but they are absolutely brutal on the community and business.”

At one point, Victoria’s fourth lockdown led to around 230 flights a day being cancelled at Melbourne Airport alone. New Zealand also paused the trans-Tasman bubble to Victoria.

The bad news comes despite the ACCC this month hailing domestic aviation’s recovery pre-lockdown, which showed 18 per cent of Australian passengers flew on routes where there was a choice of three airline groups, compared with the pre-pandemic figure of 1.5 per cent. That number is expected to have increased since March due to Rex’s expansion.

“Passengers flying Melbourne–Gold Coast, Melbourne–Adelaide and Sydney–Gold Coast now have a choice of four airlines, as Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin and Rex are all operating on the routes,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“The impact of increased competition can be seen on all of Rex’s new intercity routes, including Sydney–Melbourne where airfares fell to their lowest level in a decade following Rex’s entry.”

The investigation also revealed total passenger numbers in March 2021 were 55 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers, up from 41 per cent in December 2020.

“Prior to the recent Victorian outbreaks, the domestic airline industry had experienced relatively fewer and less significant disruptions for a number of months, and the combination of cheaper airfares and growing consumer confidence to travel interstate was critical to the recovery,” Sims said.

Coincidently, Qantas on Thursday announced it would increase its capacity to 107 per cent of pre-COVID levels and Jetstar to 120 per cent.

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