Lockdowns To Curtail Strong Traffic Stats At Wellington Airport

New Zealand’s third busiest airport, Wellington, has released traffic statistics for July. Total passenger numbers are up 41.3% compared to July 2020 but down 19.7% on July 2019 levels. It is a similar pattern when looking at aircraft movements.

Air New Zealand at Wellington
Wellington Airport has posted a solid set of traffic statistics from July 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Wellington Airport traffic up on 2020 levels, still down on 2019 levels

In a good year, the famously cramped Wellington Airport at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island handles over six million passengers and 83,000 aircraft movements. The airport normally hosts some scheduled international flights but the bulk of its business comes from domestic services.

Last year, as New Zealand buckled down to ride out COVID-19, Wellington Airport handled 3,339,873 passengers in the 12 months to December 31, compared to 6,411,932 passengers in the 12 months to December 31, 2019.

In 2020, just 209,502 passengers (or 6.2%) of the 3,339,873 passengers flew in or out of WLG on international flights. The bulk went to or from Australia. That compared with Wellington Airport handling 948,447 international passengers in the 12 months to December 31, 2019.

Air New Zealand at Wellington
New Zealand’s Wellington Airport remains notoriously space constrained. Photo: Getty Images

These days, international flights are fairly thin on the ground at Wellington. Across May and June, there were some flights to and from Australia. But they’ve dried up after the quarantine-free travel corridor fell apart.

However, Wellington’s focus on domestic airline business helped it weather the worst excesses of COVID-19 better than many other airports. While not going so well right now, New Zealand’s domestic airline sector has proved remarkably resilient over the last 18 months. That has benefitted airports like Wellington.

In July, Wellington Airport saw 430,389 passengers pass through its terminal. Of that number, 6,512 (or 1.5%) were international arrivals or departures. There were 6,264 aircraft movements in July, of which 79 (or 1.2%) were international movements.

Strong domestic travel demand bolsters Wellington Airport

Pre-COVID-19, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, and Fiji Airways offered international flights in and out of WLG. Air New Zealand and Qantas temporarily operated international flights during the short-lived travel corridor into and out of Wellington.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Singapore Airlines has decided to exit Wellington permanently.

In early August, just before New Zealand’s latest outbreak of COVID-19 saw the country enter into lockdown and Air New Zealand suspend most of its flying, Wellington Airport was riding high on the back of strong domestic travel demand.

Air New Zealand at Wellington
AIr New Zealand and Qantas operated international flights into Wellington while the quarantine-free travel corridor was in place.  Photo: Getty Images

“For the past few months, domestic travel has been really strong. From May to July, we reached 89% of pre-COVID passenger levels and based on current schedules, we are expecting airlines to operate around 530,000 seats in August, matching pre-COVID capacity,” said Wellington Airport’s Mike Vincent in a statement.

“Air New Zealand has added a significant amount of regional capacity in response to demand, and Jetstar is also continuing to rebuild Wellington capacity, operating more than 90% of pre-COVID domestic capacity in Wellington this month.

“We are also seeing our smaller operators such as Sounds Air, Air Chathams, OriginAir, and Golden Bay carrying more passengers in response to domestic demand.”

Air New Zealand’s current threadbare schedule of a handful of daily Wellington flights will see Wellington’s stats dive across August and September. However, as New Zealand (excluding Auckland) starts to ease lockdown restrictions, the airline is eyeing beefing up flights mid-month – but nothing is set in stone yet.

Given the willingness of Kiwis to get back on planes as soon as they can, Wellington Airport’s current lull should be relatively short-lived.