Travel Corridor Sees Auckland Airport Passenger Numbers Up 747%

Passenger traffic through Auckland International Airport is picking up on the back of a two-way travel corridor between New Zealand and its key Australian market. New Zealand’s biggest airport has just reported passenger traffic across May is up 747% compared to May 2020.

Passenger numbers at AKL are up 747% compared to May 2020. Photo: Getty Images

721,360 passenger movements through AKL in May

In May, Auckland Airport (AKL) saw 721,360 passengers move through its terminal. That is a small improvement on the April figure of 714,324 and a big increase on the May 2020 figure of 85,157 passenger movements.

Driving the uptick in passenger numbers in May was the opening of the travel corridor between New Zealand and Australia in mid-April. The May results provide the first full month of figures after the corridor opened. Auckland Airport handled 134,982 international passengers in May compared to 66,229 international passengers in April.

The travel corridor allows passengers who have been in New Zealand or Australia for the past fortnight to freely move between the two countries and avoid quarantine.

Australia’s biggest airport, Sydney (SYD), is yet to release its passenger traffic figures for May. However, its international passenger numbers in April were up 27.1% on the previous April. The travel corridor came into effect on April 18, with the uptick in passengers over the following 12 days boosting the April monthly total.

The travel corridor between New Zealand & Australia boosted passenger traffic at AKL. Photo: Getty Images

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Qantas and Air New Zealand return to trans-Tasman flying

When the travel corridor was announced, the two big local airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand, flooded the corridor with flights. There was an initial rush of demand, primarily from passengers keen to see family or, in the case of Kiwis stranded in Australia, to go home and skip the previous quarantine requirment.

Air New Zealand told New Zealanders to dust off their passports. The airline laid on 30 flights across the Tasman on the first day of the travel corridor and was eyeing 300 flights a week by the July holidays.

Qantas put on a similar number of flights on the first day and was keen to operate around 200 flights a week between Australia and New Zealand.

“New Zealand was Australia’s second-biggest source of international visitors before the pandemic,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce in April. “Reopening these flights across the Tasman is a very important milestone in the recovery from the pandemic for Australia and New Zealand but also aviation and tourism.”

After the initial flurry of enthusiasm from passengers, Qantas and Air New Zealand were soon forced to reduce capacity as demand waned. Around 150 weekly trans-Tasman flights that had been quickly timetabled into schedules were quietly timetabled out. Airlines switched out widebody planes for smaller single-aisle aircraft. Frequencies were trimmed. Now, there are around a dozen return flights a day to Australia out of Auckland Airport.

Both Qantas & Air New Zealand have reduced the trans-Tasman schedules as demand fails to met expectations. Photo: Getty Images

The trans-Tasman travel corridor winner is ….

Meanwhile, there has been one surprise winner in the travel corridor, and it is not Auckland Airport. Much smaller sister airport, Queenstown (ZQN), is part-owned by the owners of Auckland Airport. Queenstown Airport is handling around 10 return flights a day to Australia as the ski season gets underway. Qantas will run between 60 and 70 flights a week into Queenstown over this southern winter, triple the pre-travel downturn numbers.

“The airlines are putting in really good capacity, and early bolters are getting over to ski,” says Tourism New Zealand’s Andrew Waddel.

A couple of hours to the north, Auckland Airport will hope a few of Queentown’s visitors decide a side trip to Auckland is worthwhile.