Twice As Many Left Australia During COVID Than Flew To The Country

While the woes of Australians stuck overseas trying to return home attract the headlines, far more people are leaving Australia than arriving. Current to October 31, 2020, Australian Government statistics reveal more than twice as many people left Australia than arrived over much of 2020.

Far more people are leaving Australia than arriving throughout COVID. Photo: Brisbane Airport Corporation

International passenger departures outpace arrivals by more than two to one

The news was highlighted today by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who said over some months in 2020, three times as many people left Australia as arrived.

In the ten months to the end of October, 4,373,130 people left Australia on international flights, and 4,766,604 people arrived. But once COVID began to bite in March and Australia began restricting passenger movements, the numbers skewed.

Between April 1 and October 31, 319,675 people flew out of Australia, and 134,624 people landed. Departures outpaced arrivals by more than two to one.

During this seven month period, monthly passenger departures ran from a low of 34,240 in May to a peak of 53,835 in July. Monthly passenger arrivals varied from a low of 15,413 in September to a peak of 25,244 in June.

In April, passenger departures outpaced arrivals by a ratio of 3.3:1. In June, that ratio dropped to 1.6:1 before rising again to hit 3:1 in September. Between April and October, there was an average of 2.4 passenger departures for every arrival.

Arrival numbers began to creep up again in October as the Australian Government negotiated with Qantas to run further repatriation flights and opened extra quarantine beds. Statistics beyond October are not yet available but are expected to show further incremental increases in arrival numbers.

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Australia sends its arriving passengers straight into 14-days of self-funded quarantine. Photo: Getty Images

A lack of quarantine beds keeps passenger arrivals down

Unless an exemption is granted, the Australian Government has prohibited its citizens from leaving the country since March 2020. However, citizens of other countries are free to leave. Inbound, entry is usually only available to Australian citizens. Even then, that’s pending the availability of a quarantine bed. All arriving passengers are subject to a compulsory 14-day quarantine in a government-managed facility.

But the Australian Government does not operate the majority of quarantine beds, rather it’s the responsibility of various State Governments. This disconnect and a general unwillingness of most State Governments to pony up the cash and resources to operate more quarantine beds is one important reason why departures are outpacing arrivals.

The emergence of a virulent COVID strain in the United Kingdom also now sees some State Government-based health authorities call for a ban on arrivals from the United Kingdom. The Australian Government’s National Security Committee meeting on Friday will address the issue. If a ban gets up, it could see another hit on arrival numbers. There remain thousands of Australians stranded in the United Kingdom still trying to get a flight home.

Qatar Airways is now the dominant international airline in Australia. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/

Qatar Airways dominates Australian airspace

Meanwhile, Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas, flew just 1.1% of international passengers in and out of Australia in October. Qatar Airways has become Australia’s de facto national airline, flying 19.4% of passengers in and out of Australia in October. Since April, Qatar Airways has been the dominant international airline in Australia. In April, when international flights were at a low, Qatar Airways held a 44.5% market share. That’s gradually declined as other airlines move back into Australia or beef up existing services.

In October, Air New Zealand trailed Qatar with a 12.6% market share. Emirates had an 11.2% market share, Singapore Airlines had a 7.5% market share, and China Southern a 5.7% market share. China Southern remains the only airline to regularly send its A380s into Sydney Airport, once an A380 hub.

Those airlines continue to fly to Australia loaded with as few as 30 to 40 passengers, depending on limits set by State Governments managing quarantine facilities. Despite months of political and hand wringing over it all, it seems nothing much changes as 2021 gets underway.