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Brisbane surpasses Sydney and Melbourne for busiest domestic airport

written by Hannah Dowling | September 15, 2021

An aerial look at Brisbane Airport's domestic and international terminals. (Brisbane Airport)
An aerial look at Brisbane Airport’s domestic and international terminals. (Brisbane Airport)

Brisbane has surprisingly taken home the gold medal for the country’s busiest airport throughout the pandemic, surpassing rivals Sydney and Melbourne.

In the 12 months to 30 June 2021, Brisbane saw 7.31 million domestic passenger movements, according to a new report by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE).

Despite reporting its lowest passenger figures since 1994, the numbers placed Brisbane Airport slightly ahead of Sydney’s 7.26 million passengers, and Melbourne’s 5.89 million.

In the previous year, the Queensland capital came in third place, with 13.10 million domestic passenger movements, behind Melbourne with 18.98 million passengers and Sydney with 20.10 million passengers.

The feat was likely achieved as Queensland was able to avoid major COVID-19 outbreaks, while both Sydney and Melbourne faced extended periods of border closures due to the virus.


“We would say we’re pleased but not proud of this result,” said Brisbane Airport Executive General Manager Aviation Jim Parashos. “We’d much rather see our industry operating back under normal circumstances.”

However, Parashos added that the result “demonstrated just how well connected Brisbane is in the intrastate market”, adding that nine of the 16 sectors featured in the BITRE report were services run within Queensland.

“Services to Hamilton Island and Proserpine were almost double what they were in the previous year, so it shows how the market shifted amid domestic border closures.”

In fact, according to the report, the Brisbane-Cairns route became the third busiest route for the year ending June 2021, up from the 11th spot in the previous year.

Brisbane-Townsville came in seventh place, up from 14th last year, while Brisbane-Mackay clinched the 11th spot, up from 20th last year.

Despite domestic border closures, flights connecting Sydney and Brisbane were the second busiest route for the year, while Melbourne-Brisbane came in at number five.

Flights connecting Sydney and Melbourne remained Australia’s busiest for domestic air travel, despite the two cities both facing numerous lockdowns.

In the 12 months to 30 June 2021, over 1.73 million passengers flew between the NSW and Victorian capitals, keeping it as Australia’s busiest route, despite passenger figures falling 73.8 per cent from the previous year.

Meanwhile, in the regions, 13 million passengers passed through regional airports, down 30.4 per cent from the year ending June 2020.

Cairns was the busiest regional airport, seeing nearly 2.1 million passenger movements, down 30.1 per cent from the previous year, while Hobart came in second with 1.04 million passengers, down 50 per cent.

Townsville came in at number three, with 982,000 passenger movements, down 21.6 per cent year-on-year.

Overall, according to BITRE, there were 24.98 million passengers carried on Australian domestic aviation flights in the year to 30 June 2021, with charter passengers making up a massive 13.8 per cent of this figure.

These nearly 25 million passengers were flown across a total of 3,937,000 flights in the year to 30 June, a number down 27.9 per cent from the year previous.

Comparatively, in the year ending 30 June 2020, a total of just over 48 million passengers were carried on Australian domestic flights, across a total of 5,459,000 services.

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