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Melbourne-Sydney remains Australia’s busiest route despite lockdowns

written by Hannah Dowling | September 14, 2021
Victor Pody shoots a selection of aircraft at Melbourne YMML

Flights connecting Sydney and Melbourne have remained Australia’s busiest for domestic air travel in the last 12 months, 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.

According to new data released by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE), in the 12 months to 30 June 2021, over 1.73 million passengers flew between the NSW and Victorian capitals.

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This made it Australia’s busiest route for the year, despite passenger figures falling 73.8 per cent from the previous year, and Melbourne’s four-month long lockdown between June and October 2020.

Sydney also experienced a brief outbreak of COVID-19 in its north-east suburbs in December 2020, which saw many states impose border restrictions on greater Sydney, and the data was likely briefly impacted by the state’s most recent and ongoing outbreak, which began in mid-June 2021.

The nation’s second-busiest route was between Brisbane and Sydney, with 1.24 million passengers, down 65 per cent from the previous year, while Brisbane and Cairns came in as the third-busiest route.

Meanwhile, the data also revealed that Australians relied on fixed-wing charter flights more than ever before during the COVID pandemic, as commercial aviation was decimated by lockdowns and domestic border closures, new data shows.

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According to the BITRE data, over 3.44 million passengers travelled via fixed-wing charter aircraft in the 12 months to 30 June 2021.

This highlights a massive 22.6 per cent increase in charter demand from the year to June 2020, which was significantly less impacted by the pandemic.

For comparison, overall domestic passenger figures dropped 48 per cent year-on-year over the same period, in light of snap border closures and ongoing lockdowns.

According to the report, Perth Airport alone saw nearly 38 per cent of all charter passengers during the reporting period, due to the number of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers that serve the state’s regions.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, charter operators have reported a significant uptick in demand, as customers were left with minimal RPT options and additional skepticism towards domestic operators.

Earlier this year, Corporate Aircraft Charter’s managing director Chris Anglberger told Australian Aviation that the business saw a “significant increase” in demand for aircraft charter in the immediate aftermath of COVID restrictions.

Meanwhile, private jet start-up Airly announced in June 2020 that its membership had doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, with co-founder Luke Hampshire saying the new “surge” in business came off the back of “limited local options from commercial airlines”.

Overseas, Justin Lancaster, group commercial director of private plane brokerage Air Charter Services, said his business has also seen a surge in demand due to the “disruption” of the pandemic and subsequent capacity cuts.

“Some customers have tried to avoid infection by flying with their families on private jets to avoid travelling on commercial aircraft with a large amount of people,” Lancaster added.

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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