COVID-19 travel bans lead Melbourne Airport passenger numbers down

Key points

  • International passenger numbers dive 17 percent in February
  • Airport retailers feeling combined loss of passengers and aviation workers
  • Long term airport development program continues
  • Management confident of post-virus industry rebound

Australia’s unprecedented bushfire season and the early stages of the global COVID-19 health emergency have combined to send Melbourne Airport’s passenger traffic into retreat to start 2020.

With an early Chinese New Year helping to drive growth in international passenger numbers in January, the rapid worldwide response to COVID-19 dramatically hit February numbers for Australia’s busiest 24/7 international airport.

International passenger numbers were down 17 percent in February, with around 150,000 fewer travellers flying internationally than during the same month of 2019. While travel bans put in place for mainland China were the major contributor to the decline, similar travel restrictions enacted by other countries also contributed to reduced movement of international passengers.

Domestic traffic dove 5.2 percent for the same period – a loss of more than 100,000 passengers compared to the prior year.

Melbourne Airport Chief Executive, Lyell Strambi, forecast ongoing challenges as the global aviation industry adapts to the constantly changing status of the COVID-19 epidemic.

“These are unprecedented circumstances buffeting our customers, and we are keenly aware that all our airline customers are hurting as a result of diminished passenger demand. That’s why we are working with every single airline to understand how we can best support them at this time,” said Mr Strambi.

“February’s drop in passenger numbers was significant, but we expect that to be amplified even further in March – and possibly again as we head towards the Australian winter.

“Let’s not forget that the airlines are one vital part of a much greater industry, and for every passenger they lose, that impact is felt many times over throughout the sector. Right here at the airport, we feel the loss of every passenger several times over.

“Airport operators charge agreed fees to airlines on a per-passenger basis, meaning that airlines don’t pay landing or terminal fees on any empty seat.

“The passenger who doesn’t fly, also doesn’t catch a SkyBus, or an Uber, or a taxi. They don’t buy a coffee or a book, grab a meal or pick up a souvenir. And that’s compounded even further when airlines start cancelling services and reducing their staff on the ground – removing daily customers from airport restaurants and bars and cafes in addition to the lost passenger traffic,” said Mr Strambi.

“Just as we’re working with every airline to identify ways to work together to ease the pain right now, we’re also doing likewise with every retailer, every kitchen, every transport operator.

Mr Strambi said airports needed to play a stabilising role throughout the current health crisis, to enable the global travel sector to rebound quickly when the time is right.

“We’ve seen major disruptions to the travel industry many times before, from the loss of Ansett to 9/11, from SARS to the Global Financial Crisis. In every case, travel takes a hit, and in every case – once the immediate crisis has passed, the industry comes back stronger than it was before.

“Therefore, notwithstanding these – hopefully – short term pressures, we’re continuing to build.

“Melbourne Airport has been working hard to catch up to the enormous growth in volumes of passengers visiting our airport over the past decade. When the industry rebounds we will still need the new gates, the new taxiways, the new baggage systems and runways. None of our infrastructure pipeline can be done incrementally – you can’t build just the first 20 percent of a baggage carousel – and in order for airline businesses to recover on the other side of this issue, we need to support every single flight that every single airline wants to operate when they’re ready.”

“We are very much in the midst of some short-term pain, but the aviation sector as a whole is resilient and it will emerge and thrive when consumer and business demand returns. Until that time we are focusing on operating safely and sustainably in the short term, which is the support the whole Melbourne Airport community needs – whether that’s our people, our partners or the millions of passengers who are still travelling.

“Melbourne Airport is particularly fortunate to have a strong balance sheet going into this turbulent period. Our Board is extremely supportive of us continuing to deliver our capital investment program, which will see Melbourne emerge ready to support all of our airline customers when passengers are ready to return to the skies,” said Mr Strambi.

Passenger figures for January 2020:

PassengersJanuary 2020January 2019Growth (%)*
Total (ex transits)3,292,9603,294,339-0.04%
Total (ex transits)3,292,960

*Monthly percentage growth compared to January 2019

Passenger figures for February 2020:

PassengersFebruary 2020February 2019Growth (%)*
Total (ex transits)2,613,7722,867,243-8.8%
Total (ex transits)2,613,772

*Monthly percentage growth compared to February 2019

 Passenger figures for Jan-Feb 2020:

PassengersJanuary-February 20120January-February 2019Growth (%)*
Total (ex transits)5,906,7326,161,582-4.1%
Total (ex transits)5,906,732

*Percentage growth compared to Jan-Feb 2019


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