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Ready for take-off? Airports sector update

Airport and passenger volumes

Three hours before an international flight and an hour before a domestic flight (or only 40 minutes if you are in Canberra) was the rule we remember before heading to an airport pre-covid. Covid has changed many things and lately we have seen wait times at the major airports blowing out. We decided to investigate how have the airports been performing since the last time we looked at them in Q3 2021.

With no more lockdowns, state and international borders are open to domestic and international passengers. The Government has ended mandatory pre-arrival testing and airlines are also dropping mandatory inflight mask requirements to slowly transition back to a pre-covid travel environment. Elsewhere around the world, border restrictions have largely ceased and the travel rebound was well underway. We have been tracking the major airports around the world and have seen passenger numbers nearing 75% of pre-covid peaks.

At Sydney airport, domestic passenger numbers have risen very quickly and reached almost 87% of pre-covid numbers on a monthly comparison basis (see above). While it will take a while for this to feed through to annual numbers (see chart below with passengers for the calendar year), the signs for domestic passengers are good.

However, international passengers are still lagging (see chart below). This reflects Australia’s unique country mix (compared to Europe). In particular, passengers from China, New Zealand, and USA represented approximately one-third of the international travellers to and from Australia in 2019. With China still in lock down and New Zealand removing restrictions on residents and foreign visitors only in April 2022, international passenger numbers are still in the early stage of recovery.

Sydney and major airports have been facing operational challenges as they look to service surging demand from domestic travellers. With the addition of Rex on major metropolitan routes, domestic travellers have more options on routes and timings and has added pressure on the operational capability of Sydney airport. Currently the airport is going on a hiring spree and is holding a jobs fair to quickly fill the vacant positions to reach pre-covid efficiency and wait times.

In conclusion, domestic passenger numbers have rebounded quickly post Covid and are likely to soon return to pre-Covid trends. However, international numbers remain well below past trends and will remain so while ever key markets such as China remain closed. Given that international passengers are two to three times more profitable than domestic passengers (on a per passenger basis), this slow rebound hurts.


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