Brisbane Airport has said passengers enjoyed “smooth travelling” during the Christmas holidays even as terminals faced record pre-COVID traffic.
It comes despite the wider industry suffering its worst-ever year for performance in 2022, with the all-time record for delays being broken in April, June and July.
Since then, businesses have recruited thousands of extra staff and cut flights to improve the passenger experience.
Brisbane Airport’s chief executive, Gert-Jan de Graaff, said on Saturday that his terminals were “humming” during the holiday period.
“The industry has come a long way since borders reopened last year, so to see more than three million people pass smoothly through Brisbane Airport across December and January is a great sign for Queensland’s economy.”
Analysis of Flightradar data by Australian Aviation shows airports and airlines defied expectations to survive the Christmas rush. While delays and cancellations appeared higher than average, they were far below the disruption witnessed last winter.
In total, Melbourne was expecting almost six million people to pass through its terminals across December and January, representing a 150 per cent increase on the previous summer holiday period, while Sydney hoped to register 2.2 million passengers between 12 December and 1 January alone.
That increase was partly due to Qantas increasing the number of flights on key routes and swapping in larger aircraft in order to boost capacity over Christmas.
However, despite the positive bounce back for domestic aviation, international’s recovery is still sluggish.
Brisbane alone said its international capacity, or seats for sale, is only at 63 per cent of pre-COVID numbers.
One of the biggest drivers is a lack of international tourists, with Sydney Airport’s chief executive recently revealing twice as many Australians are flying out of the country compared to travellers arriving.
Speaking to the AFR, Geoff Culbert argued there is still “a lot of work to do” to convince international airlines to rebuild their networks and then persuade tourists to return.
“Pre-COVID, the proportion of Australians’ travel overseas to international visitors arriving was almost 50:50. Now it’s 65:35, so for every international visitor coming in, we have two Australian residents heading out,” he said.
“Getting more international capacity into the system needs to be the priority for 2023.”
His views are backed up by data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which showed there were 370,000 “short-term overseas arrivals” in September 2022, compared to 695,000 in September 2019.
However, across the 2021–22 financial year, just 18 per cent of those listed their reason for coming to the country as being on holiday, compared to 56 per cent who cited visiting friends or relatives.
The data appears to corroborate the observation made by Adelaide Airport’s MD, Brenton Cox, on the Australian Aviation Podcast.
“Right now, probably most of the people coming from overseas are doing so to visit friends and relatives, or for essential business,” he said. “The big free, independent travellers haven’t quite made their way here yet.”
Cox said he believed Australia’s COVID-19 response — which saw state borders open and close and a high-profile incident involving Novak Djokovic — deterred casual visitors.
He said, “I just remember looking at the scenes when Djokovic was being booted out of the Australian Open. And at that moment, you went, ‘Wow, it’s a lot of eyeballs on this.’
“And there are a lot of people who — similar to the state border risk — thought, ‘Well, if I come to this country, am I going to be trapped? Or am I going to be stuck in a detention centre?’”