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Australia’s Airbus and Boeing fleets surpass pre-COVID numbers

written by Jake Nelson | January 16, 2024

Qantas and Jetstar aircraft on the tarmac at Sydney Airport. (Image: Qantas)

More jet aircraft from the two big planemakers are now flying in Australia than before the pandemic, despite passenger numbers continuing to lag behind 2019 figures.

According to figures in the Airservices Network Overview report for December 2023, there are now 389 Airbus and Boeing planes in Australia’s skies as of 31 December 2023, compared to 370 in 2022 and 382 in 2019.

Additionally, a net total of two more regional planes, 12 more narrow-body jets, and seven more wide-body jets are active in Australia now than in December 2022.

More than 100 Boeing and Airbus jets are on order across Jetstar, the rest of the Qantas Group, and Virgin Australia, the majority of which are Airbus planes as part of Qantas Group’s major fleet renewal program: QantasLink A220-300s, Jetstar A320neos, Jetstar and Qantas A321neos, and Qantas “Project Sunrise” A350-1000s.

Qantas also has a smaller number of Boeing 787-9 and 787-10 aircraft on order, while Virgin Australia is awaiting delivery of more 737 MAX 8 and MAX 10 planes.

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“Fleet renewal is gathering momentum to drive increased capacity and operational efficiency, greater dispatch reliability and enhanced environmental outcomes,” Airservices wrote in its report.

Qantas and Virgin Australia both last year announced major aircraft orders: 12 787s and 12 A350s for Qantas, one of the last major acts for former CEO Alan Joyce, and an additional six 737 MAX 8s for Virgin, taking its total order to 14.

In addition, new entrant Bonza now has four MAX 8s in its own right, with more expected this year, while Rex is continuing to expand its domestic jet operations with leased 737-800s.

Despite the fleet size being larger than pre-pandemic, average daily flights were still slightly below 2019 levels in December 2023, with 97 per cent of total pre-pandemic passenger flights, 98 per cent of domestic, and 94 per cent of international. 22 December was, however, the best single day for passenger flights in Australia since September of 2019.

While Melbourne Airport in December saw its busiest month post-pandemic, passenger numbers were still below December 2019 levels: a 92.8 total recovery on December 2019, with domestic 91.4 per cent recovered and international 95.9 per cent recovered.

Sydney Airport has yet to release its December passenger figures, but November 2023 saw a 91.4 per cent recovery on November 2019 levels, with domestic passenger numbers at 90.5 per cent and international at 93 per cent of pre-pandemic figures for the month.

“At Sydney and Melbourne Airport, international demand has surpassed pre-pandemic levels ahead of domestic recovery,” Airservices wrote.

“The uptick in international traffic was nevertheless offset by a contraction in domestic traffic that reflects the cyclical trend in business travel and general aviation activities leading into the holiday season.”

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