International travel still 50% down despite June boom

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Australian airports are still welcoming less than half the number of international passengers than before COVID, despite a strong start to the winter season.

According to new data from the Department of Infrastructure, numbers hit a post-COVID high of 1.6 million in June, up from 1.3 million in May.

That figure is up significantly from a pandemic low of just 42,000 in September last year, but well down on the 3.3 million in the equivalent June month in 2019.

Australia opened its international border in stages, first allowing residents and citizens to fly in November 2021, before opening to students, backpackers and skilled migrants shortly after. Finally, the country welcomed vaccinated tourists in February before dropping the controversial mandate in July.

The new BITRE numbers, based on ‘total revenue passengers from the top 20 airports’, suggest the local industry has a long way to go before it can fully recover from COVID.

Last week, Australian Aviation reported how the APAC region saw the worst global aviation recovery in 2021 as its countries went into lockdown despite other nations opening up.

Analysis from aviation analytics firm Cirium showed APAC’s passenger numbers tumbled by 14 per cent compared to 2020 despite North America’s increasing by 75 per cent.

It meant Qantas’ worldwide rank slipped from 24 pre-pandemic to 77, and Virgin Australia from 60 to 92.

In Australia, Sydney was in lockdown until 11 October 2021, while China is still using movement restrictions in its cities today.

“Across the Asia-Pacific as a whole — in stark contrast to recovery in all other world regions — airlines saw traffic fall again last year,” said Cirium.

“Cathay Pacific slipped spectacularly, falling out of the top 100 ranking entirely following Hong Kong’s pursuit of an aggressive zero-COVID strategy. It was not alone. Carriers across the region in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand also continued to shrink.

“Along the way, Asia Pacific also lost its place as home to the world’s largest share of airline traffic. The region’s carriers accounted for over a third of global traffic going into the pandemic and grew that share in 2020 as COVID ramped up in other parts of the world during the year.

“But by 2021, it had surrendered that lead to the recovering US airlines.”

Overall, American Airlines emerged top of the passenger rankings, followed by Delta, United, and Southwest .

Based on more than 600 operators in the Cirium airline database, the rankings showed that world traffic ended 2021 down by 57 per cent against the pre-pandemic peak.

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