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Sydney Airport ‘draws a line’ under COVID with best month since 2019

written by Jake Nelson | January 22, 2024

International airlines at Sydney Airport. (Image: Seth Jaworski)

Sydney Airport is looking to move past the pandemic era as it records its strongest month since 2019.

A total of 3.58 million passengers went through Sydney’s terminals last month – 15.8 per cent higher than December 2022, and 90.6 per cent of December 2019 levels – with Australian passport holders exceeding pre-pandemic numbers for the first time, up 1.3 per cent on December 2019.

International travel was 93.3 per cent recovered on December 2019, with 1.50 million passengers over the month – a 29.4 per cent increase on December 2022. The domestic terminals saw 2.08 million passengers, up 7.6 per cent on December 2022 but still down 11.2 per cent on 2019.

In total, Sydney saw more than 38 million passengers in 2023, 13 per cent below 2019’s record of 44.4 million passengers.

According to Sydney Airport CEO Scott Charlton, news that Australian passenger volumes are surpassing 2019 levels is a great way to end 2023 and “draw a line under the COVID era”.


“December’s performance also demonstrates how far we have come since the start of the year. In January, we were 79 per cent recovered compared to pre-COVID, the border to China was still closed and there was broadly a lack of capacity on key overseas routes,” he said.

“By the end of the year, international passenger volumes have almost fully recovered, and we have experienced one of the strongest China recoveries of any international airport globally with nine airlines flying 89 return services weekly to mainland China. In 2023 we also saw extra international capacity translate into strong passenger volumes in the India and South Korea markets.

“Domestically, airline capacity is continuing to impact passenger volumes and there’s still work to do before we see travel habits return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Sydney’s December passenger figures are a further sign of the sector’s recovery from the pandemic, with Australian aviation marking its busiest single day since 2019 on 22 December, the country’s Airbus and Boeing fleets now above pre-pandemic levels, and Melbourne Airport in December seeing its busiest month post-pandemic.

In its Network Overview report for December 2023, Airservices Australia noted that the average number of daily passenger flights last month had reached 97 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“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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