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International airlines may exit Australia as recovery lags, says Brisbane CEO

written by Adam Thorn | July 21, 2021

Brisbane International Departures (Jen Dainer / BNE)

Brisbane Airport’s CEO has said international airlines “may well leave Australia behind” as vaccinated nations begin to remove COVID restrictions now.

“As an island nation a mid to long-haul flight from most of its trading partners, Australia is uniquely reliant on aviation,” said Gert-Jan de Graaff. “Whilst we have managed through the last 18 months of this crisis with airlines and airports prepared to maintain air connections at great financial loss, this is simply not sustainable.”

The significant intervention on Wednesday came as the airport revealed passenger numbers during the last financial year dipped to their lowest level since 1994, failing to crack 8 million. It comes with more than half of the country now in lockdown, including NSW, Victoria and SA as the vaccine rollout lags behind countries such as the US, UK and much of the EU.

“It is essential that all levels of government recognise that as other parts of the globe normalise, the highly competitive international aviation sector may well leave Australia behind,” warned de Graaff. “Policies must be put in place to ensure Australia’s connectivity to the world is protected.

“We are eager to see the vaccination rates of Australians increase as soon as possible and move towards the ‘Consolidation Phase’ of the National Plan so we can allow vaccinated Australians to travel again, and vaccinated visitors to come to Australia.”


In total, during the last financial year, the airport saw a 56 per cent decline in passengers, with just 7.9 million passing through. FY2019 was conversely its busiest ever, with more than 23 million passengers.

International passengers dropped 95 per cent while “repeated lockdowns” and state border closures caused a 43 per cent decrease in domestic passengers year-on-year (-5.7 million passengers), with just under 7.6 million.

Passengers flying intrastate within Queensland via the airport also fell 11 per cent year-on-year (-430,000 passengers), to 3.6 million.

“Brisbane Airport continued to connect to 27 destinations across the state, sustaining the valuable resources sector by connecting FIFO workers to regional Queensland,” de Graaff said.

“We remain thankful for the strength of our intrastate market, which has demonstrated the essential nature of aviation to the Queensland community and economy.”

It comes after Melbourne Airport revealed on Tuesday that its passenger traffic for the last financial year dropped to its lowest level since 1984.

The business’ chief executive, Lyell Strambi, said it was now a matter of “urgent and critical national interest” to address the country’s vaccine supply challenges.

“The sector has never experienced a deeper or longer crisis than COVID; it almost completely grounded interstate and international travel last year and it continues to prevent flying due to outbreaks and subsequent border closures,” said Strambi.

“Vaccination is our only path out of this situation, it is the only way to unlock international travel opportunities and to restore the freedoms we once enjoyed.

“We continue to work closely with our international airline partners and state and federal governments to plan to reconnect Victorians to the rest of the world when it is safe to do so.”

Earlier this week, American became the first airline to halt flights to Australia, following the government’s decision to lower arrival caps from 6,070 passengers a week to just 3,035.

Last week, Australian Aviation reported how the number of aircraft arriving and departing from Sydney Airport on Wednesday finally hit the same lows as the corresponding date in 2020.

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Comments (5)

  • John


    I’d like to think the underused QF A330 aircraft and crews could pick up the freight slack but I understand an international body allocates percentage freight services across the servicing airlines. Sounds strange, as I would have thought each airline could negotiate separately with the freight forwarding companies.

    • Vannus


      Yes, John, since the ‘price fixing by a cartel of airlines’ happened several years’ ago, Air Freight is now managed so all is more equable.

  • Ben


    With COVID rising in the US, the Netherlands re-implementing restrictions after their “freedom day” and the UK sure to follow suit once the effect of 50,000 cases/day goes exponential and is only tempered by a 60-odd percent rate of fully vaccinated (one dose of AZ is not effective against Delta) adults and nobody under 16 vaccinated at all.

    Sure the hospitalisation and fatality rates are down with vaccines, but if the case rate climbs as assisted by Delta’s virrulence, then even those reduced percentages are going to have shockingly high numbers of people severely effected or worse. Not to mention what happens when we get another variant that is vaccine resistant. The UK releasing the brakes last summer took the original virus and delivered us the Alpha strain, so I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if Boris’ “Freedom Day” bestows on us another variant of concern that has a strong resistance to the AstraZeneca vaccine (being that’s the primary vaccine in the UK.

    The virus may not be intelligent, but it’s not stupid. This is natural selection in real time… or as Jeff Goldblum’s character from Jurrasic Park would tell us “Life finds a way”.

  • Warwick


    Other countries’ airlines’ will only fly here, if they can make a profit in passenger loads, &/or Freight.
    There’s no other reason(s) for them to come to ‘Down Under’.
    Expect many more to do same as AA, in this ongoing pandemic world.

  • franz chong


    the silly thing is not allowing anyone under 12 to get this vaccine.

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