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Sydney international recovery beats domestic 2 months in a row

written by Jake Nelson | September 21, 2023

The first Vietjet A330-300 flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney touches down. (Image: Sydney Airport)

Sydney Airport’s domestic recovery “continues to underwhelm”, according to CEO Geoff Culbert, lagging behind the international recovery for the second consecutive month.

International traffic at Sydney was at 89.7 per cent of 2019 levels in August, compared to domestic at 88.0 per cent. In total, the airport saw an 88.6 per cent recovery in pre-pandemic traffic, with the strong international numbers driven particularly by Asian travel.

“Recent boosts to capacity from some of our international airlines has led to a surge in overseas visitors, especially from countries like South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam, where the numbers are now higher than in 2019,” said Culbert.

According to Culbert, the 29 per cent growth in the Vietnamese market over 2019 is evidence of “how strong competition and increasing capacity leads to greater demand.”

“Leading up to the pandemic, Vietnam was our fastest growing market with two carriers offering direct flights. This growth has accelerated with newcomers, Vietjet and Bamboo Airways, also operating services between Sydney Airport and Ho Chi Minh City,” he said.


“We now have four airlines offering more than 5,000 seats a week to Vietnam and this increase in capacity has boosted tourism for both countries. In August, the number of Vietnamese passport holders flying through Sydney Airport was 29 per cent higher than before the pandemic, which is a terrific result.”

US passport holders entering Australia have also inched above 2019 levels by one per cent, while travellers from the Philippines are 13 per cent higher and South Korean travellers 44 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Culbert has in the past repeatedly blamed major airlines for the airport’s sluggish domestic recovery, accusing Qantas and Virgin of “hoarding” prime take-off slots.

A slot is a literal time slot that allows an airline to take off at a specific airport at a particular time.

Currently, an airline can hold a time slot at an airport indefinitely as long as it flies it 80 per cent of the time, allowing carriers to cancel up to a fifth and block out rivals from the best times.

The rules are necessary because two aircraft cannot simultaneously take off on the same runway.

It’s led to accusations that major carriers are effectively gaming the system to take advantage, though both Qantas and Virgin have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The airport has advocated for the 80–20 rule to be tightened to 95–5.

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