Who Is Australia’s No.1 International Airline In 2021?

For over a year, a foreign airline has commanded the biggest market share of international traffic in and out of Australia. For much of 2020, Qatar Airways was Australia’s number one international airline. They’ve since lost that crown to Singapore Airlines. However, with Qantas and Air New Zealand flights now jetting across the Tasman, there’s are market share changes underway. But who will come out on top?

Changing market dynamics means a new airline will emerge as Australia’s number one international airline in April. Photo: Getty Images

Qatar Airways does well in 2020 but fades against Singapore Airlines

With Qantas suspending its scheduled international operations in March 2020, Qatar Airways became Australia’s de facto national carrier throughout much of 2020. By mid-year, the Doha-based airline Qatar Airways commanded a 32% share of the market, albeit based on small passenger numbers.

At the time, the Qatar Airways CEO spoke about the logistical hurdles and financial strain operating flights to multiple Australian cities entailed. But Akbar al-Baker liked being the market leader and said he remained committed to its Australian operations. In return, Qatar Airways was getting favorable publicity in Australia for staying the course.

By the end of 2020, Singapore Airlines was challenging Qatar Airways. In November, Qatar Airways had a 12.9% share of the market, closely followed by Singapore Airlines on 12.1%. In December, Singapore Airlines snatched the crown with a 15.7% share of the market. Qatar Airways trailed with a 13.1% market share. As Christmas neared, the sector between Singapore and Melbourne was Singapore Airlines’ busiest route worldwide, the 13 return weekly flights underpinned by cargo.

In January, both airlines were neck and neck, each with a 14.1% share of the market. In February, Singapore Airlines had edged ahead again, with a 16.8% market share compared with Qatar’s 16.2% share of the market.

The Australian Government’s most recent aviation statistics cover March. That month saw Singapore Airlines extend its lead over Qatar Airways. In March, Singapore Airlines carried 19.3% of all passengers in and out of Australia. Qatar Airways carried 15.3% of all passengers.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 Getty
At the start of 2021, Singapore Airlines was Australia’s number one international carrier. Photo: Getty Images

Big market shares but very low passenger numbers

The increased market shares come as the number of passengers traveling in and out of Australia declined. In March 2020, 54 passenger airlines operated international flights into Australia, with 1,725,165 passengers passing through Australia’s international airports. With the collapse in international travel underway, that figure was well under the 3,285,273 international passengers who moved through Australia’s airports in March 2019.

Fast forward to March 2021 and 40 international airlines flew into Australia, many offering only the barest of schedules. 58 336 passengers arrived or departed from Australia’s international airports in March. Around 11,250 of those passengers flew on Singapore Airlines and some 8,925 passengers flew on Qatar Airways. It is nice to be a market leader but the raw passenger numbers won’t make any airline wax lyrical.

Singapore Airlines has been flying to Australia for 50 years and normally has an extensive array of flights to five Australian cities. The airline has kept up flying while Qantas shut up shop on its international operations, Many might argue Singapore Airlines deserves the market leader prize.

In April, either Qantas or Air New Zealand will emerge as Australia’s number one international airline. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Trans-Tasman travel bubble will see market shares change

In mid-April, a two-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand got underway. Qantas dusted off some planes and commenced flights from Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne to several cities throughout New Zealand.

Air New Zealand, which had maintained scaled back services to Australia through the last year, also turbocharged their schedules, adding a significant amount of capacity. We won’t know the official April traffic numbers for another month, but Auckland Airport has reported it handled 200,000 more travelers in April than it did in March. Sydney Airport is reporting about 14,000 passenger movements each week to and from New Zealand. Those passengers are going to be on either Qantas Group or Air New Zealand flights.

When the Australian Government releases its April traffic statistics, the dominant international airline won’t be Qatar Airways or Singapore Airlines. However, don’t assume it will be Qantas either. Air New Zealand has a red hot chance of being the number one international airline in Australia over April (and May). That will really give Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran and his fellow Kiwis something to crow about.