Who Are The Top International Airlines Still Flying To Australia?

It has never been tougher flying to and from Australia, but many airlines stick with it. Harnessing strong freight demand, the ability to charge huge fares, and network considerations, airlines keep landing at Australian airports.

Despite formidable barriers, many airlines continue to fly to Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this week, Australia’s Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) released a snapshot of international airline activity in Australia across June. Drawing on share of passengers carried data, the ten biggest international airline operators in Australia that month can be revealed.

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In market share terms, Air New Zealand continues to fly high

For the third month in a row, Air New Zealand was the number one international carrier in Australia. The Auckland-based airline carried 47% of the 194,290 passengers who flew in and out of Australia in June.

Flying to multiple destinations in Australia and benefitting from a quarantine-free travel corridor between New Zealand and Australia, Air New Zealand operated 364 flights to Australia in June and 359 flights back to New Zealand.

Passenger loads were higher on flights to New Zealand (64.6%) than on flights to Australia (60.1%). This is no surprise given both Air New Zealand and Qantas had indicated loads to New Zealand exceeded loads in the opposite direction.

In second place was Qantas. The Australian airline flew 21.8% (or 42,352) of passengers coming and going from Australia in June. This number excludes passengers arriving on specially organised repatriation flights.

Instead, the traffic was exclusively in and out of New Zealand under the travel corridor provisions. That travel corridor shot Qantas from also-ran status in March to the second largest international carrier in Australia in June.

Now the travel corridor is paused, Qantas is likely to drop out of the top ten list once BITRE reveals market share for August. It is an inglorious fate for the national flag carrier.

Air New Zealand & Qantas carried nearly 69% of all passengers flying in & out of Australia in June. Photo: Getty Images

Singapore Airlines proves a consistent performer

Coming in third was Singapore Airlines, consistently a strong performer in Australia. Singapore Airlines carried 6.5% (or 12,595) of all passengers flying in and out of Australia in June. The airline operated 270 flights in Australia and 268 flights back to Singapore in June.

While that number of flights might sound impressive in the current environment, passenger loads paint a picture of how tough flying into Australia is. Loads on Singapore Airlines’ flights to Australia in June averaged 9.9% while loads back to Singapore averaged 8.7%.

Australian Government-imposed passenger limits are a key reason for this. Like most airlines flying to Australia, Singapore Airlines underwrites flights by flying higher than usual freight loads and charging eye-watering fares for the seats it is allowed to sell.

Like Qantas, low-cost offshoot Jetstar came from nowhere on the back of the trans-Tasman travel corridor to jag a 5.5% share of passengers coming and going from Australia in June. Jetstar normally finds a place in the top ten list on the back of services around the Asia-Pacific region. But like Qantas, Jetstar suspended its scheduled international flying in 2020.

In June 2020, Jetstar carried 0.0% of passengers in and out of Australia. Now the New Zealand travel corridor is suspended, Jetstar will again drop off the top ten list.

Jetstar will now drop out of the top ten list with the pausing of the travel corridor to New Zealand. Photo: Jetstar

Gulf airlines sit in the middle of the top ten

Taking the fifth spot is Qatar Airways, with a 4.6% passenger share. That equates to 8,966 passengers carried in and out of Australia in June. This time last year, Qatar owned Australian skies, carrying a substantial (32%) of all passengers coming and going from Australia.

June’s percentage is not so much a downgrade as a normalisation. Qatar Airways carried 3.0% of all passengers in and out of Australia across 2019. Last year, while airlines like Qantas abandoned international flights into Australia, Qatar stuck to it. That temporarily boosted the Doha-based airline’s market share.

However, with Air New Zealand and Qantas now seeing their market share crushed, Qatar Airways will again rise up the list.

In sixth spot is Gulf stablemate Emirates. Like Singapore Airlines, Emirates aircraft are a common sight at various Australian airports. Emirates had a 2.4% share of all passengers coming and going from Australia in June.

That month, Emirates operated 123 flights into Australia from Dubai. All up, the airline carried 4,716 passengers to and from Australia in June. Passenger loads into Australia averaged 10.8% and outbound loads averaged 17.2%.

Like Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, Emirates has stuck with its Australian flights. Photo: Emirates

United Airlines bests its US rivals in Australia in June

Three US carriers flew into Australia in June, but only one made the top ten list. United Airlines took the seventh spot with a 1.6% slice of the total passenger pie. United Airlines operated 86 flights into Australia in June and 87 flights back to the US. In total, United flew 3,177 passengers to and from Australia in June.

Passenger loads on United Airlines in June averaged 10.4% into Sydney and 10.6% on US-bound flights. In passenger number terms, United Airlines comfortably bested rivals Delta Air Lines (1,477 passengers) and American Airlines (1,984 passengers) in June on their Australian routes.

Lurking in eighth spot is China Southern Airlines. The Chinese mega airline flew 1.2% of all the passengers coming and going from Australia in June. The airline operated 55 flights into Australia and 55 flights back to Guangzhou in June, flying a total of 2,344 passengers.

China Southern is the only airline to still operate A380s to Australia. Passenger loads on China Southern’s Australia-bound flights averaged 5.7% in June. China-bound flights averaged 56.8%. Put another way, 215 passengers flew into Australia on China Southern aircraft in June, while 2,219 passengers left Australia on China Southern planes in the same month.

China Southern is flying the Airbus A380 in Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Cathay Pacific & Etihad round out the list

Rounding out the top ten list are two familiar but troubled airlines – Cathay Pacific and Etihad. Both are big names that have suffered extensively since international travel went into freefall.

Cathay Pacific flew 1.2% (or 2,276) of all passengers in and out of Australia in June. The Hong Kong-based airline operated 101 flights in each direction that month. Cathay Pacific’s passenger loads were dismal. The airline had an average passenger load of 4.8% into Australia in June and 4.7% when flying back to Hong Kong.

Closing out the top ten list is Etihad Airways. The airline is turning into a shadow of its former self. Its A380s may be no more in Australia and elsewhere, still, operating 44 flights in each direction between Australia and Abu Dhabi in June resulted in Etihad carrying 1.1% of all passengers coming and going from Australia that month. Passenger loads across those flights averaged 8.6%.

While the airlines flying most passengers in and out of Australia are familiar names, the small number of passengers flown suggest it is no easy ride for the airlines. The number of flights operated may suggest relative prosperity, but the passenger loads tell a different story.

It is a tough business flying into Australia in 2021. You’d have to give the airlines some credit for sticking with it.