Australia’s aviation industry has faced a bumpy recovery from Covid-19 shutdowns, with staff shortages, long queues at airports, higher fares and axed routes creating headlines.
And a spate of diversions and delays over the busy holiday period – including the forced landing of a Qantas flight in Azerbaijan just before Christmas – have added to the perception of an industry still in trouble.
But one travel expert says the industry is bouncing back, with passenger numbers returning to pre-2020 levels across the country.
And, in good news, cheaper flights could soon be on the way.
More than 2.2 million people were forecast to pass through Sydney Airport during the Christmas peak this year, including 800,000 international passengers.
“A whole lot of additional capacity is coming back into the market without the pressures of Christmas,” Neil Hansford, a travel industry veteran with more than 40 years experience in the airline and aviation industry, says.
The chairman of Strategic Aviation Solutions said this increased capacity on flights would lead to cheaper seats over the coming months.
“It’s not doomed to fail, it’s nonsense,” Mr Hansford said.
“The biggest problem is you can’t get workers back … but we’ve bounced back as an economy from Covid much stronger than anybody thought we would.”
On the Qantas booking page, return flights from Perth to Heathrow Airport will drop to between $1974 and $2014 in May. This is compared to maximum prices of $2917 in February.
Qantas has been plagued by several cases of flights being diverted from airports over recent weeks, including one destined for the Philippines on New Year’s Eve which was turned around because of power issues at Manila Airport, which forced the diversion of more than 360 flights.
Qantas said their QF19 flight to Manila on December 31 departed Sydney at 12.39pm but turned around only three hours into the journey.
Another Qantas flight leaving Sydney for London was forced to make a sudden landing in Athens on Monday after a passenger became critically ill leaving Singapore.
“Crew and passengers performed lifesaving first aid on board and, on the advice of medical experts, the flight (QF1) diverted so the passenger could receive emergency medical treatment,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
“As Athens is an airport we don’t usually service, we were unable to get the flight back underway before the crew reached their duty limits.”
Passengers were provided with hotel rooms and meals until the flight departed on Wednesday.
On December 23, an Airbus A380 made an emergency landing in Azerbaijan after a cargo smoke warning.
Jetstar also suffered an “internal miscommunication” this week when a flight travelling from Melbourne to Bali was forced to turn around after seven hours in the air.
Despite these incidents, it’s the issue of staffing that has been causing the biggest headache for airlines around the world.
In August, Qantas announced senior staff would be pitching in to help with baggage handling amid staff shortages.
Mr Hansford told NCA NewsWire issues with staff shortages could be traced back to a roughly 20 per cent reduction in capacity for airlines in the run up to Christmas last year.
He said this led to cheaper flights disappearing.
“Covid took a lot of people out of the workforce,” Mr Hansford said.
“People found they could get similar paying jobs elsewhere … those people won’t be found again.”
But, Australian airlines are rebuilding.
A Qantas Group spokesman said more than 1500 new staff had been hired between April and September last year.
Three new Qantas routes – including Brisbane to Tokyo, Melbourne to Dallas Fort Worth in Texas and Sydney to Seoul in Korea – were added over December.
Jetstar also announced it would start direct flights between Sydney and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands from June this year.
Qantas Board chair Richard Goyder in November 2022 announced major fleet improvements would be taking place from late 2023, including the arrival of the Airbus A220s to replace the retiring 717 fleet.
From 2025, the Airbus A321XLRs will replace the 737s from 2025, he said.
Sydney Airport officials predicted up to 2.2 million people would pass through the airport during the peak holiday period between December 12 and New Year’s Day – an 82 per cent recovery compared to the same period in 2019.
Domestic terminals were forecast to take in 1.9 million passengers over the same 2022 dates – a 91 per cent recovery in that period from 2019.
Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said passenger volumes had been building over each successive holiday period in 2022.
This included 1.8 million passengers coming through Sydney Airport in the April school holidays, 1.96 million in the mid-year break and another 2.04 million in September.
The numbers mark a major improvement to November’s figures, where only 2,966,000 passengers passed through the airport – a 20.5 per cent decrease on 2019 levels.