australian aviation logo

Australian Aviation’s 2023 year in review

written by Adam Thorn | December 18, 2023

Virgin Australia’s second 737 MAX 8, VH-8IC ‘Kirra Beach’. (Image: Boeing)

The year after the pandemic was meant to be quiet, but 2023 proved anything but. Here, we present the biggest stories of the year. Click the links to our full coverage.

The exit of Alan Joyce

And with that, he was gone. After 15 years at the helm of Qantas, Alan Joyce left early following a string of damaging headlines about the Flying Kangaroo in easily the biggest aviation story of the year. To his supporters, Joyce’s legacy was to save the company from COVID-19 and lead it to an astonishing $2.5 million profit. To his detractors, he left the company’s reputation in the gutter – facing an ACCC court case and a ruling that the airline had illegally fired workers. And that’s not including endless tales of poor customer experience from passengers.

Bonza proves its doubters wrong

Everyone wrote off Bonza when it announced it would fly from holiday destination to holiday destination, skipping out major capital cities. Qantas’s Alan Joyce, Virgin’s Jayne Hrdlicka and Rex’s John Sharp all said it wouldn’t work. But after launching in January, the carrier that could has continued to pack out planes and expand its network, even if there have been some hiccups on the way. After a Christmas scare, it’s managed to get wheels up on flights out of the Gold Coast, too.


Slot hoarding goes mainstream

In June, the ACCC used its final analysis of the aviation industry to accuse larger airlines of exploiting the rules around take-off slots at airports to stop smaller carriers from competing with them at peak times. It followed Rex and Bonza both arguing the constraints were stopping them from growing successfully. Virgin and Qantas, as you’d imagine, don’t agree, but with the federal government hinting change could be on the way, this is one story that will rumble on into 2024.

A Qatar kerfuffle

It all started simply enough when the federal government rejected Qatar’s request for more flights into Australia. Transport Minister Catherine King argued the decision was nothing unusual, but critics said Labor was helping its apparent friend Alan Joyce to protect it from competition. The saga was a tangled web of vested interests culminating in a senate enquiry and some incredible accusations. The most notable was when Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka suggested the federal government was originally planning to grant Qatar extra flights into Australia but changed its mind after Alan Joyce said he was “not happy” about the decision. Not one to go down without a fight, King concluded the inquiry was a “ridiculous farce” and argued the previous government had done the same thing.

International recovery turns around

The way aviation’s recovery from COVID-19 was meant to work was that domestic travel would bounce back quickly, but international would trail behind at a snail’s pace. But in 2023, conventional thinking was turned on its head. China dropped its pandemic restrictions, its carriers returned to Australia en masse, while airlines followed suit globally. The result was domestic aviation stagnating as international leapt ahead.

Next-generation aircraft arrive.

With COVID-19 restrictions over and masks tossed in the bin, airlines finally felt confident to make some huge aircraft orders. In a final flourish from Alan Joyce, Qantas ordered 12 new 787 Dreamliners and 12 Airbus A350s to replace the bulk of its ageing A330 fleet. Not one to be left behind, a rejuvenated Virgin Australia said it would buy an additional six 737 MAX 8s, taking its total order to 14, while Rex took its jet fleet to 10.


You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member today!

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.