It is one of the busiest – and most profitable – routes on the planet.
As of earlier this year, more than 90 minutes of air travel between Melbourne and Sydney had traveled than any other in the Western world, with an average of about 5,000 flights carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers between cities each month.
But that all changed in March, as travel became a potential public health hazard.
Within months, the country’s most popular airline route will be the route between Brisbane and Cairns, as Queenslanders seek an interstate holiday.
Other domestic routes among the most popular in the country during the pandemic are Sydney-Ballina for NSW and Perth-Karratha for WA.
Interstate routes across the country were destroyed.
But now, with national borders lifted and flights across the country continuing, airlines hope the increased travel ahead of Christmas will bring a taste of COVID-normal to the country’s skies.
When the sky becomes a dead zone
Data released by the Australian Government explains the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s domestic aviation industry through September.
In April – Australia’s first full month of coronavirus restrictions – the number of flights between Melbourne and Sydney plunged to 439 – less than 10 percent from previous months.
But even then the planes were flying empty, with an average of only 38 paying passengers per flight, compared to 153 per flight in January.
In a normal month, more than 2 million paying passengers will fly on Australia’s top 10 airline routes. At April’s nadir, that number was only 70,000.
In September, when the entire city of Melbourne was in stage four of the lockdown, the Melbourne-Sydney route was removed from its mantle as Australia’s most traveled, replaced by Brisbane-Cairns.
In fact, seven of the 10 most traveled air routes in September (last month data) did not cross national borders at all.
Most popular air routes in Australia, September 2020:
- 1.Brisbane, QLD – Cairns, QLD
- 2.Brisbane, QLD – Townsville, QLD
- 3.Brisbane, QLD – Mackay, QLD
- 4.Sydney, NSW – Melbourne, VIC
- 5.Brisbane, QLD – Sydney, NSW
- 6.Brisbane, QLD – Rockhampton, QLD
- 7.Perth, WA – Karatha, WA
- 8.Sydney, NSW – Ballina, NSW
- 9.Perth, WA –Broome, WA
- 10.Brisbane, QLD – Adelaide, SA
A spokesman for Virgin Australia said that by the middle of the year, the number of interstate flights served had shrunk to the point where domestic destinations were the most popular.
“As border restrictions remain in place for most states and territories in September, the most popular places for travel are mainly domestic destinations in Queensland, such as Cairns, Townsville and Mackay, as well as intras Western Australia, with Broome as the top destination in terms of this. state, “he said.
“Then in September, Adelaide also became popular when the borders of South Australia were relaxed.”
He said the upcoming opening of the Queensland border to Sydney and Victoria on Tuesday had created a surge in demand.
“We have seen very positive demand for travel between the capital and to popular holiday destinations such as Hamilton Island and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.”
Qantas wishes you a busy Christmas
Airline economist and UNSW professor Tim Harcourt said the domestic capital-to-capital route was critical to the airline’s profit.
“The temporary loss of Sydney and Melbourne due to COVID has become a major problem.
“We are not the largest airline nation, but the routes from Sydney to Melbourne, Sydney to Brisbane that generate the most money are airlines.
“[Qantas] lost a lot of money on international routes, but that’s enough to some degree in Sydney-Melbourne. ”
Last week, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline had seen a surge in bookings on the Sydney-Melbourne route since travel restrictions between Victoria and NSW were lifted.
“We see a massive demand has occurred,” he said.
The airline hopes that by Christmas it will operate at 60 percent of domestic capacity before the coronavirus.
“Then in the new year, we started to get closer to 100 percent,” said Joyce.
Professor Harcourt said while Christmas would give airlines a boost, it would be muted somewhat.
“People are not that interested in still flying. People who fly really have to, they have sick relatives or they have to work,” he said.
“They will not have a normal year but they will definitely do better than what they have done all year.”