How Brisbane Is Becoming A Top Airport

Brisbane may not be the first airport you think of when flying in or out of Australia, but it is fast making a name for itself as a top airport to travel through. And the statistics back this up. Flights are increasing at a rate of knots and passenger numbers are booming. Ten years ago, 17.5 million people used Brisbane Airport annually. This year, 24 million people will use the airport. By 2034/35, that figure is expected to be around 45 million.

Qantas is a big player at Brisbane Airport. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There are a few reasons why Brisbane Airport is growing and becoming a top airport. The airport is adroitly avoiding many of the problems facing Sydney and Melbourne airports. Brisbane Airport has long invested time and money in infrastructure developments and forward planning. The airport actively markets itself to potential customers. Finally, the airport’s location gives it room for physical expansion.

Brisbane is a good alternative to Sydney and Melbourne Airports

Sydney and Melbourne are the two busiest airports in Australia. Regular users of these two airports will be familiar with the capacity and infrastructure issues that they face. Additionally, regular weather events can cause runway shutdowns, mass cancellations, and long delays at both airports. Last weekend was an example of this.

Brisbane avoids most of these issues. It has the infrastructure in place (as well as more infrastructure coming online) to handle present capacity and growth. The terminals are well planned and reasonably pleasant to move through. While Brisbane can suffer from extreme weather events, they impact the airport far less than is the case in Sydney and Melbourne.

Brisbane Airport has not been an overnight success

The success of Brisbane Airport can be traced back 30 years. In 1988, the city hosted the World Expo. It led to the development of a large domestic terminal which, today, is still more than capable of handling the traffic moving through it. 

Built for World Expo in 1988, Brisbane’s domestic terminal still holds up well. Photo: Brisbane Airports Corporation.

According to Brisbane Airport, the domestic terminal is now used by over 17 million people annually, handling nearly 3000 weekly movements, and offering domestic flights to 51 destinations. 

In 1995, the current international terminal opened. Arguably, from a passenger’s perspective, it is the most user-friendly international terminal in Australia. Since the terminal opened, the airport has kept on improving. In 2015, Brisbane Airport spent AUD$45 million upgrading the passenger experience, and in 2018, it finished an AUD$135 million project to develop the northern expansion of the terminal.

Airlines have also put their faith in the terminal. Both Qantas and Air New Zealand redeveloped their lounges and both now have excellent facilities at Brisbane International. Qantas base many of their 787-9s there and are starting direct flights to Chicago and San Francisco.

The very user-friendly international terminal at Brisbane Airport. Photo: Brisbane Airport Corporation.

Benefitting both terminals, money has been continually spent on things passengers don’t necessarily see – improved baggage handling systems, runway overlays and lighting upgrades, and taxiway upgrades.

Current activity at Brisbane Airport

According to the Centre for Aviation, in the three years to July 2019, weekly one-way international seat capacity out of Brisbane has grown from 24,000 to 34,000 seats. International flight frequency has grown from 87 to 137 flights a week. 

Asian carriers are helping to drive this growth. In July 2016, six Asian carriers flew into Brisbane. In July 2019, 14 Asian carriers jetted in.

The new carriers include Air China, Hainan Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Malindo Air, Philippine Airlines, Royal Brunei and AirAsia X. In 2019 alone, Brisbane has seen Royal Brunei and AirAsiaX start flying in. In October, Eva Air will be bringing its 787-10s into Brisbane.

Frequency of Brisbane-Asia flights. July 2019. Source: CAPA.

For domestic passengers, Brisbane Airport in 2019 has more direct services to Australian destinations than any other airport in the country. It’s a handy marketing boast. A key reason for this is the decentralised nature of Queensland and a large number of intrastate destinations.

A new runway in 2020

While this writer usually finds his departures from Brisbane smooth and on-time, the airport says it is nearing capacity. But it is building a new runway to help with this. And the airport is not just talking about it either – the runway is due to open in 2020.

Brisbane’s new runway will be open next year. Photo: Brisbane Airport Corporation.

The AUD$1.3 billion project will feature a 3.3km runway that is 60 metres wide. There are 12km of associated taxiways being built.

It is anticipated the runway will bring more than AUD$5 billion of benefits to Queensland and open up capacity at the airport, enabling new flights and more passengers.

While both Melbourne and Sydney have nice masterplans, Brisbane Airport is walking the talk and that’s one reason why Australia’s third airport is rapidly becoming a top airport.

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Dave A

Air China or China Airlines? Text says the former, table shows the latter.

I hope to fly into Australia via Brisbane one day (on EVA). Good to learn about the benefits of Brisbane Airport. I’d previously thought it was negative that EVA only flew into Brisbane but my mind is changed.



Nice analysis! Good on BNE for making a great airport. I have travelled through there several times (all domestic) and the experience has always been very good. The airport train as well as the road connections to the city are also better than what both SYD and MEL offer (MEL doesn’t even have a train – even my hometown PER will beat them to it).


I am flying from Ottawa to Canberra in September and chose to fly through Brisbane rather than Sydney basically because of expected crowds at Sydney customs and immigration. It should be noted that BNE has a geographical advantage for flights to Chicago , and many travellers will find it advantageous to enter the US in Chicago rather than LA. Apparently Qantas are basing their 787 base in Brisbane.

Clive Knott

Brisbane still suffers from the same malaise as every other major AU airport except Melbourne: the hassle, frustration and sheer pointlessness of having separate domestic and international terminals. After a long international flight the last thing a passenger wants is to have to walk to trains (and organise tickets), or wait for buses or harangue expensive taxi drivers for a short inter-terminal drive. Grrrr…..

Michael M

Not much of an issue really, you have to do the same at Singapore or Dubai if you need to change terminals for a connecting flight. It’s manageable.