Sydney Airport has long enjoyed its status as Australia’s key international airport. But since the onset of the travel downturn, 20 airlines have ceased flying to Sydney. Now, nearly 18 months after the downturn began, airlines continue to say sayonara to Sydney.
Airlines big and small suspend their Sydney flights
Speaking to media and investors last week, Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert confirmed the loss of airline business. The airlines that have discontinued their Sydney services range from small regional carriers to global names.
Among the international airlines calling it quits early in the downturn was the only European airline to fly into Sydney. British Airways suspended its daily Boeing 777 flights in April 2020. After a long absence from Australian skies, Air India only resumed flights to Sydney in 2013. Those flights also went into hiatus in 2020.
Also missing from Sydney was the only South American airline to fly to Australia. After only going nonstop between Santiago and Sydney in 2019, the LATAM suspended its Sydney-bound flights in 2020. Small Pacific islands airline Samoa Airlines is also now absent from Sydney.
In 2019, air traffic between Sydney and multiple Chinese destinations was booming. Strong inbound tourism flows and a complex array of codeshares and partnerships filled seats on multiple airlines. But since early 2020, Beijing Capital Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Tianjin Airlines have all suspended their scheduled flights to Sydney.
Closer to home, the normally vibrant air corridor between Sydney and Indonesia is now eerily quiet. Batik Air Indonesia and Malindo Air have both suspended their Sydney flights.
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Freight keeps many Sydney-bound flights going
Hawaiian Airlines hit the pause button on their Sydney flights in 2020. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are hanging in there. Continuing the trend of airlines exiting Sydney, American Airlines recently confirmed it was temporarily pausing its flights between Los Angeles and Sydney.
Those airlines continuing to fly into Sydney largely do so propped up by freight loads. Passenger loads can be ludicrously low on their Sydney flights. Korean Air now operates a single weekly return flight to Sydney. In June, the airline carried just 46 passengers into Australia and 93 passengers back to Seoul.
Quite a few of the passenger airlines still flying into Sydney now only bring in freight. Examples include Air Canada, Air China, Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines.
Constrained by Australian Government imposed passenger limits and border closures, those airlines that continue to fly passengers into Australia have dramatically slashed their schedules. Sydney Airport saw 5,969 international aircraft movements in February 2020. In June 2021, the airport hosted 2,441 international aircraft movements – many of them freight flights.
Sydney Airport CEO confident airlines will return
Despite the dismal situation at Sydney Airport, CEO Geoff Culbert adopted an upbeat tone last week. He cites the accelerating rollout of vaccinations in Australia and the successful re-opening of airline markets elsewhere as reasons to be cheerful.
Mr Culbert thinks most of the airlines who have dropped Sydney from their networks will return.
“Sydney has been a really important and profitable route in their networks, and we’re confident when international borders do open up, and they are able to fly to Australia that Sydney will be high on their agenda – if not their first priority in terms of destinations.
“It is a question of when the international border does reopen. Then we expect to see good support from international airlines coming back to this market.”
The big question is whether the airlines share Geoff Culbert’s view.