To say that's it's been a difficult year for Australia's aviation industry is a bit of an understatement. COVID restrictions and lockdowns for most of 2020 meant travelling by planes was off the cards for many domestically. And that's before you even get to the issue of international travel, which had almost stopped entirely due to the closure of international borders. However, more than 12 months on from the shutdown of the sector, the industry is showing signs of life again, thanks to the travel bubble with New Zealand, as well as the creation and expansion of routes domestically.
Where exactly is the industry at?
Australia's domestic airline industry was hit hard by the pandemic, which saw passenger numbers drastically decline. Snap border closures and city-wide lockdowns meant that some of Australia's major destinations and busiest airports were off limits to many people. On top of that, the pandemic also led to Australia's second-largest airline Virgin go into voluntary administration. Virgin has since been taken over by new owners but the airline has reduced the number of flights it undertakes, while its budget carrier Tiger Airways was stopped. Many other airlines such as Qantas also reported job losses due to COVID. Half-price airfares have been introduced by the federal government to and from select destinations across the country as a means of kickstarting the industry. However, since the tickets went on sale at the beginning of April, around half of the 800,000 tickets offered have been sold. The chief executive of the Australian Airports Association James Goodwin said confidence in being able to travel safely again was rising. "We have green shoots of recovery starting to bloom at the moment and we want to build on that," he said. "The aviation and tourism sectors are resilient."
We see this service as a great example of delivering the airport our region deservesNewcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock
Why have new routes been added?
With international travel off the cards due to the pandemic, many airlines set their sights on expanding routes domestically. Examples of this include Jetstar announcing direct flights from Williamtown to Cairns last week, clearing a straight into the tropical north for Hunter holiday-makers just in time for winter. Earlier this year, FlyPelican's introduced flights between Newcastle Airport and the Sunshine Coast. Newcastle Airport chief executive Dr Peter Cock said the direct flights were a boon. "We see this service as a great example of delivering the airport our region deserves", Dr Cock said.
When will the sector get back to pre-pandemic levels?
That's the million-dollar question that no one quite has an answer to. While an exact time as to when flights, domestically at least, will be back to what they were before COVID hit is difficult to predict, what people can agree upon is that it would still take several months for that to happen, provided that everything goes smoothly and there are no more snap lockdowns. "The new magic number is still trying to determine what will be the new normal," Mr Goodwin said. "What we hope is that we'll get back to pre-COVID levels by the end of the year for domestic travel."
What about international travel?
It may still be a while before we're able to grab our passports, head to the airport and travel to a country of our choosing. However, international travel is back on the cards somewhat in Australia, thanks to the creation of the travel bubble with New Zealand. The idea of similar travel bubbles with nearby nations that have handled the outbreak of COVID well, such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have been raised, but such a travel bubble with either country has yet to be finalised. Experts have said it would still be many months before broader international borders may be able to be opened for those keen to travel overseas.
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