Lockdowns Skew Australia’s Busiest Routes In June

Queensland played a starring role in Australia’s domestic airline market in June. Four Queensland airports hosted at least one of Australia’s top ten busiest airline routes that month. The skewed outcome resulted from border closures and travel restrictions that temporarily concentrated airline traffic towards Queensland.

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BITRE has released Australian domestic passenger data for June. Photo: Getty Images

Queensland shines – briefly

This week, the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) released data on domestic aviation activity across June. It is the first full month of data that factors in the current rolling lockdowns across Australia that began in late May. The ten busiest domestic routes in June were;

  1. Sydney (SYD) – Brisbane (BNE)   176,400 passengers
  2. Sydney – Gold Coast (OOL)        134,000 passengers
  3. Brisbane – Cairns (CNS)              107,700 passengers
  4. Adelaide (ADL) – Sydney             80,200 passengers
  5. Melbourne (MEL) – Sydney         75,800 passengers
  6. Brisbane – Townsville (TSV)         73,300 passengers
  7. Perth (PER) – Sydney                   63,500 passengers
  8. Adelaide – Brisbane                    56,900 passengers
  9. Cairns – Sydney                           56,700 passengers
  10. Brisbane – Mackay (MKY)            53,500 passengers

Six of those ten routes connected at least one city in Queensland. Three of the top ten routes were intrastate routes within Queensland. It is definately an odd state of affairs when the regional city of Mackay breaks into the top ten.  The June data is also a throwback to 2020 when routes like Brisbane – Cairns were the best performing in the country.

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One lonely taxi outside a deserted Qantas terminal at Sydney last week. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying

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Lockdown fever grows, skewing normal airline traffic patterns

What’s causing this? Melbourne re-entered lockdown on May 27. Besides grounding the locals in Melbourne, other states closed their borders to Melbournians and travelers coming from there. That wiped traffic from what is normally Australia’s second-biggest airport.

Lockdown fever has spread since late May. Melbourne is in its third lockdown since then. Sydney has been in lockdown since June. Various smaller capitals have also issued temporary lockdown orders. Consequently, passenger traffic to and from Sydney has also crashed. However, this is not fully reflected in the June figures.

June’s top-performing Sydney – Brisbane, and Sydney – Gold Coast routes will drop off the top ten list for yet to be published July and August data. Things are so bad at OOL the airport has closed for at least one day in August because no flights were scheduled.

Having developed a taste for shutting borders, Queensland is presently closed to residents and travelers from New South Wales (home to Sydney), Victoria (home to Melbourne), Australian Capital Territory (home to Canberra), and parts of the North Territory (including Darwin). That single border closure is impacting airline traffic into Queensland significantly and where the busiest airline routes are.

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Only a fraction of Virgin Australia’s network is unimpacted by lockdowns. Photo: Getty Images

Lockdowns hit Australia’s airlines hard

Recently, Australia’s biggest airline, Qantas, has said it was down to flying just 40% of its planned August domestic timetable. Since publishing that figure, the situation has deteriorated further, and Qantas will probably finish the month flying substantially less. The business it manages to pick up will mostly come from intrastate routes like Brisbane – Cairns, Perth – Broome, and Alice Springs – Darwin.

“Based on current case numbers, it’s reasonable to assume that Sydney’s borders will be closed for at least another two months,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce earlier this month.

Regional Express (Rex) says the lockdowns have cost it 80% of their business, and they’ve grounded their fleet of Boeing 737s. Virgin Australia says just 7% of its network remains unaffected by travel restrictions, and they are flying only 25% of their planned schedules this month.

The full impact of the lockdowns on Australia’s domestic airlines will be revealed when BITRE publishes the July data. It is not going to be pretty.

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