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Domestic aviation back at pre-COVID levels: ACCC

written by Jake Nelson | May 21, 2024

Traffic at Melbourne Airport. (Image: Victor Pody)

Domestic aviation has finally recovered from COVID-19, the ACCC has said, with passenger levels and capacity returning to pre-pandemic levels.

In its latest Domestic Airline Competition in Australia report, the ACCC found 4.9 million domestic passengers flew with Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Rex and Bonza in March 2024, representing 98.8 per cent of March 2019 levels, with seat capacity also barely below pre-pandemic figures at 6.2 million.

Additionally, February 2024 saw domestic passenger levels exceed pre-pandemic figures for the first time since the pandemic, which the competition watchdog ascribed to “several major entertainment events taking place across the country”, including Taylor Swift’s concerts in Melbourne and Sydney and a WWE event in Perth.

“After four years of instability, the domestic airline industry has returned to more typical seasonal levels that were last seen before the pandemic,” said ACCC commissioner Anna Brakey.

“The increase to airline seat capacity has contributed to lower airfares for consumers on domestic routes. We hope to see this trend continue as the airline industry returns to a more stable market.”

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Domestic airfares also dropped in March, while reliability improved across the network, according to the ACCC.

“In March 2024, average revenue per domestic passenger decreased in both nominal terms (by 1.4 per cent) and real terms (by 4.8 per cent) compared to March 2023,” the watchdog said.

“The report found that airfares spiked on some routes in February, likely due to the high demand caused by multiple major events.

“In March 2024, the industry cancelled 2.8 per cent of flights, which represented an improvement from 5.0 per cent in December 2023. Similarly, on-time performance across the industry was 77.2 per cent in March 2024, improving from 63.6 per cent in December 2023.”

The ACCC’s report is the second since the agency was directed to resume monitoring the domestic aviation industry after the Albanese government extended its remit for another three years in October, with the previous monitoring regime, set up by the Morrison government during the pandemic, having ended in June.

The resumption of ACCC aviation monitoring was one of the key recommendations from last year’s Senate Select Committee on Commonwealth Bilateral Air Service Agreements, chaired by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.

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