Like aviation markets elsewhere, Australian aviation was hit hard in 2020. Passengers stopped traveling, planes stopped flying, and countless people lost their jobs. For Australian aviation and the people who work in the industry, 2020 wasn’t a great year. Predicting how 2021 will pan out is a fraught business. But there are a few changes that would make life easier for everyone and represent some green shoots for Australian aviation in 2021.
Lifting international border and travel restrictions
Foremost is the lifting of the international border and travel restrictions. How that goes in 2021 is anyone’s guess. But the rollout of a COVID vaccine in certain countries gives rise to some optimism. Australia’s borders are still closed, even to many of its own citizens. A handful of airlines continue to operate flights into Australian airports. However, limits on the number of passengers those flights can carry and increasingly strict quarantine rules make it a tough operating environment for airlines. One of the best outcomes in 2021 for Australian aviation would be an unwinding of these restrictions and a resumption of normal international services.
Finally sorting out internal border issues
Within Australia, internal state borders continue to open and close, causing havoc with local airlines’ schedules. Earlier in December, things were looking promising. Most internal border restrictions were removed, and Qantas was eyeing a domestic schedule at 68% of pre-COVID levels in December. This would rise to 80% over the first quarter of 2021. Virgin Australia was forecasting similar levels of flying. But a small COVID outbreak in Sydney in mid-December (there were seven new cases in the 24 hours to 20:00 on December 26) saw other states quickly slam their internal borders shut again. Overcoming knee-jerk reactions and keeping internal borders open, allowing among other things, domestic airlines to grow and thrive again, would be something to look forward to in 2021.
Watching how Rex flies
In the first six months of 2021, many people will be watching how Rex goes with their new inter capital jet services. Boeing 737-800 flights between Sydney and Melbourne are due to start in early March. Flights between Sydney and Brisbane will follow soon after. It’s a perilous path Rex is taking, and many airlines have tried what they are doing and failed. But most people underestimate the expertise and experience behind Rex. These guys know what they are doing. If they can make the jet services work, it will be the biggest shakeout of Australian domestic aviation since Ansett collapsed and Virgin Australia stepped into the vacuum. How Rex flies will be one of the big stories of Australian aviation in 2021.
Regional flying gathers traction
To stimulate demand and work within internal border restrictions, domestic airlines have experimented with new routes. Qantas is a high-profile example, but some lesser-known airlines have been equally inventive. Link Airlines now scoots between Wollongong to Brisbane, FlyPelican flies between Canberra and Port Macquarie, and Sharp Airlines will now whizz you between Hobart and King Island. These new routes don’t grab the headlines, but they help stimulate demand and keep planes and crews in the air. They also contribute to a wider atmosphere of network adventurism. It would be great to see this spirit continue in 2021.
There’s a lot of people crossing their fingers the vaccine will work. Given Australia hasn’t invested much time or energy in alternative ways to manage the virus, whether Australian aviation gets back into gear in 2021 largely hinges on the vaccine’s success. If the vaccine works well, things may get back to normal sooner rather than later. If the vaccine doesn’t pan out as hoped, the trials and tribulations of 2020 could stay with Australian aviation for a while yet.
What are your thoughts about Australia aviation next year? Let us know what you think in the comment section.