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Strewth! Air New Zealand now Australia’s biggest international airline

written by Adam Thorn | July 22, 2021

Air New Zealand and Qantas aircraft pictured together by Victor Pody

Air New Zealand is now Australia’s biggest international carrier as a result of the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble and Qantas ceasing most of its international operations.

New analysis of data released by the Department of Transport reveals the Kiwi flag carrier was responsible for 49 per cent of all international passengers arriving or departing from Australia in May – compared with just 22.6 per cent for Qantas.

The next two highest-ranking carriers were Jetstar (6.7 per cent) and Singapore (5.7 per cent). In total, there were 214,246 passengers leaving or arriving in the country in May 2021.

The bizarre situation is a result of both Qantas and Virgin ceasing all commercial international operations other than those crossing the Tasman.

Last year, Qatar Airways was at one stage the biggest, after its share of international passengers carried leapt from just 3 per cent to 44.5 per cent in April 2020.


All the figures are compiled by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE), the official source of aviation statistics.

It comes after Australian Aviation reported earlier this week that American became the first international airline to pull out of Australia following the government’s decision to lower arrival caps from 6,070 passengers a week to just 3,035.

An update to the business’ schedule revealed LA-Sydney flight AA73 would be suspended from 31 August until 29 October. The 787-9 return, AA72, has also been withdrawn from 3 September until 31 October.

The developments follow national cabinet’s decision earlier this month to halve the caps in a bid to reduce leakages of COVID out of hotel quarantine. The move was widely expected given American confirmed last week it would be flying 20 empty aircraft from LA to Sydney over the next two months.

In April 2021, 45 international airlines operated scheduled services to or from Australia, with international passenger traffic down 96.8 per cent on the corresponding month in 2019.

The industry body representing international carriers had earlier warned 18,000 Australians would be bumped off flights due to the country’s arrival caps lowering.

“That’s just the maths,” said Barry Abrams, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA).

“All of them will have legitimate and genuine reasons why they can return on those flights; it will be a very stressful situation for everybody.”

More than 34,000 Australians abroad are currently registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to return home, although more than 300,000 citizens and residents made it back since the start of the COVID crisis.

To compensate, the federal government has promised to fund more Qantas 787 repatriation flights and announced South Australia would host the two-week trial of home quarantine for vaccinated arrivals into the country.

However, Australian Aviation previously revealed how the lowering of the caps causes flights between London and Sydney to sell for more than $43,000.

The developments come after state and federal leaders agreed on a pathway out of the COVID pandemic, which will see four “phases” of response until life returns to normal.

During the current phase one focused on vaccinating, preparing and planning, arrival caps will reduce by 50 per cent from 6,070 passengers a week to just 3,035.

The arrival caps will then return to their current levels in phase two, with larger caps for vaccinated travellers.

Phase two will begin when a specific target of vaccinations has been reached, which will be decided by “scientific evidence”.

In this phase, lockdowns will only be used in extreme circumstances and vaccinated citizens will face eased restrictions. More students and skilled migrants will likely be welcomed, too.

In the third phase, the virus will be managed like any other infectious disease and phase four would see the country return to normality.

Arrival caps were introduced in July 2020 and initially sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021, before finally returning to more than 6,000 early this year.

Air New Zealand’s position is also likely to be short-lived given the trans-Tasman bubble is now closed to South Australia, Victoria and NSW.

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