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Omicron forces dramatic drop in overseas departures

written by Hannah Dowling | March 21, 2022

The number of international travellers departing from Australian airports for overseas destinations dropped over 20 per cent between December and February, Australian Aviation can reveal.

The data, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suggests Australian holiday-makers saw their overseas holiday plans dashed by the Omicron wave throughout January and February.

The number of people departing from Australian airports to overseas destinations reached a post-pandemic peak in December of 227,230 travellers, before falling to 188,200 in January and dropping again in February to 178,720 departures.

Meanwhile, according to the ABS data, the number of Australian citizens and residents leaving the country for short-term trips fell by over 60,000 travellers to 107,020 departures in January, down from 167,410 in December.


The December departure surge coincides largely with easing restrictions on international travel across Australia, which saw most residents free to travel overseas and return without any quarantine measures by mid-December – apart from those in Western Australia.

However, in the months following these eased restrictions, Omicron took hold in the eastern states, which caused flag carrier Qantas to slash its international flight capacity from 30 per cent of pre-COVID levels down to 22 per cent.

Meanwhile, rival Virgin was forced to place its only resumed international service, from Sydney to Fiji, on hold in January, due to the Omicron surge.

Domestically, both Qantas and Virgin announced massive cuts to flight capacity, as staff and customers alike were sent into COVID isolation in droves.

Overall, Qantas revealed the Omicron outbreak cost the airline over $650 million in lost revenue.

The news comes after data from Sydney and Melbourne showed that Australia’s aviation industry is just days away from surpassing the flying levels seen before the Omicron downturn.

In the NSW capital, the number of aircraft arriving and departing hit 651 on 16 March, down from a post-lockdown peak of 661 on Christmas Eve last year. The numbers at Tullamarine are similarly just 33 below its own peak.

The numbers, based on a seven-day rolling average, are likely to increase substantially soon with this week’s announcement that New Zealand will relax its international border restrictions.

The country will allow fully vaccinated Australians to enter from 11.59pm on 12 April, and visitors will not need to isolate. Within hours of the announcement from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Qantas and Jetstar said they would boost daily return flights across the Tasmin.

The flag carrier and its subsidiary will operate 30 return flights per week on five routes, a major boost from the two previously running.

Qantas will fly daily from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to Auckland and Sydney to Christchurch on its Boeing 737 aircraft and Airbus A330 aircraft.

Jetstar, meanwhile, will operate three weekly flights from the Gold Coast to Auckland on its Airbus A320 jets.

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