Australia’s second busiest passenger airport is coming back to life as movement restrictions start to fall by the wayside, airport retailers roll up the shutters, and airlines begin ramping up flights. Melbourne Airport’s reawakening follows dark days when as few as 700 passengers passed through.
“We never really stopped operating,” Melbourne Airport CEO Lyell Strambi told ABC Radio on Friday morning. “But we had very few passengers on many days. Now, it’s a real hive of activity as businesses ready to welcome passengers back to the airport.”
Monday a big day for Melbourne Airport
Monday, November 1, is shaping up as a big day for Melbourne Airport. Locally, New South Wales will re-open to fully vaccinated Melburnians, helping to reboot the usually very busy Melbourne – Sydney flight corridor.
Also on Monday, the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, will drop its mandatory quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers arriving on international flights.
“After more than 18 months of restrictions on international travel, this is a very welcome first step towards re-opening Victoria to the world,” Mr Strambi said.
The airport CEO admits business won’t be whizzing back to pre-pandemic levels right away. Lyell Strambi says it will be a modest start at Melbourne Airport. He expects there will be quite a bit of activity on the Melbourne – Sydney corridor, but the airport is only expecting five international passenger flights on Monday.
“There was not a lot of advance notice given, and it takes a little while for airlines to spool up and make sure they get the flights into place.
“Even those flights that are running are flying relatively lightly loaded because people haven’t had the time to book and make arrangements.”
Capacity into Melbourne ramping up
There are currently 13 carriers scheduled to operate more than 34,000 international seats into Melbourne in the week of November 1. That number is due to increase to 18 carriers and more than 94,000 seats by Christmas.
Much of the additional capacity comes from airlines opening up seat inventory on flights already scheduled. Limits on the number of passengers airlines could fly into Melbourne forced them to block off most seats on planes. Those limits are ending on Monday.
Now, carriers like Qatar Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and China Southern Airlines are releasing thousands of seats without necessarily scheduling extra flights.
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Airport CEO says border regime needs to ease further
But Lyell Strambi says the regime coming into effect on Monday, allowing only vaccinated Australians to move in and out of the country freely, is unsustainable beyond the short term. He’s calling for the Australian Government to hurry up and start letting in foreign tourists and other travelers.
“We’ve got to get to a stage fairly quickly where double vaccinated foreigners are allowed into the country,” he said. “It’s just a simple demand and supply equation. It will be very hard for airlines to have sustainable flights if we’re only targeting Australians who have been double vaccinated going out and coming back. That reduces your market by half.
“It’s not just about the airports and the airlines. It’s much more about what it does for the broader economy – your farmers need their workers, universities need their students, there are so many cohorts dependent on that free connection of people. We need to make everything work. If airlines can’t fill their planes, then they won’t fly.”
Until that happens, Mr Strambi says it will take a while for Melbourne Airport to recover from its 700 passengers a day lows to its pre-pandemic highs of 100,000 passengers a day. But he acknowledges Monday’s reopening is a very positive start.