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Perth Airport is the main gateway to the Perth metropolitan area and the state of Western Australia. Hosting domestic, regional and international passenger and cargo services for over 20 airlines, the airport is a regional hub for Qantas Airways, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, Skippers Aviation, Alliance Airlines, Cobham and Network Aviation.
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Malaysia Airline (MAS) is cutting capacity to Australia by over 40% in Aug-2015 as it drops Brisbane and reduces capacity to Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. But Australia remains an important market for MAS and the flag carrier will remain one of Australia’s 10 largest foreign airlines.
The reductions are sensible as for the most part they simply reverse earlier expansion that was overambitious and unsustainable. MAS does risk leaving an opening for competitors, particularly Malaysian rival AirAsia X, but in the current challenging phase of its history it cannot be worried about market share.
This is Part 1 in a series of reports on MAS capacity cuts and the potential impact on the Malaysian and broader Asian markets.
This report focuses on Australia, where the upcoming MAS cuts follow significant capacity reductions made in early 2015 by AirAsia X.
China Southern Airlines exceeds 55x flights target to Australia/NZ. Competition regulators query JVs
Mission accomplished: China Southern Airlines is already surpassing its goal of having 55 weekly flights to Australia and New Zealand by the end of 2015. From about 25 weekly flights in 2011, China Southern in Dec-2015 will have 65 weekly flights. This includes three daily flights – one on an A380 – to Sydney, a frequency that compares to Cathay Pacific’s four and Singapore Airlines’ average 4.5.
Competitors are responding with a series of JVs that await regulatory approval. Qantas-China Eastern received a draft rejection while Air New Zealand-Air China awaits approval and Air New Zealand-Cathay Pacific needs re-authorisation. The Qantas-China Eastern initial rejection appears misguided while New Zealand stakeholders are questioning the benefits of the Air NZ-Cathay alliance in a market that where capacity has decreased by 18% while the Air NZ-Singapore Airlines alliance has grown capacity by 20%.
It might appear lines in the market have been drawn, but it is still early days. China Southern’s achievement in the market is only its first. The question is what its next goal is, and the answer is being kept closely guarded.
Partnerships have been an important part of South African Airways' long-haul restructuring and will continue to shape changes as SAA seeks to bring its long-haul network to profitability. A joint venture with Cathay Pacific covering the Hong Kong-Johannesburg route is the likely next step.
A strategic solution for Hong Kong has been outstanding since SAA cancelled its Beijing service and dropped Mumbai as part of a partnership with Etihad Airways. In addition to its new Etihad partnership, SAA is looking to grow its pre-existing partnership with Emirates but denies reports Emirates was going to buy a stake in SAA.
SAA also wants better access to Sydney, and has considered various options to place its metal in Australia's largest city but would prefer to find a partnership with Qantas that regulators will approve. Expected regulatory rejection prompted Qantas to end a 14-year codeshare with SAA in early 2014.
Australia domestic airline market outlook: Qantas Group reins in capacity as Virgin continues growth
Throughout the global financial crisis, Australia's domestic market defied global aviation trends. Although LCCs made inroads and grew the market, short-haul corporate travel – mostly in premium cabins – remained strong. A domestic market serving 20-odd million people produced profits in excess of AUD1 billion. More recently those profits were slashed during a capacity war between Virgin Australia, seeking a larger position in the market, and Qantas, which fought to defend its position.
Qantas applied the capacity brakes in the first half of fiscal 2015, removing seats across both Qantas and Jetstar for the first time since the capacity growth spurt. Capacity forecasts show the group continuing to remove capacity in 2H2015. Qantas is forecast to end FY2015 with a 3.5% reduction in domestic ASKs and Jetstar a 2.3% reduction. The smaller Virgin Australia will meanwhile grow 2.2% and its smaller LCC unit Tigerair will grow 8.9%.
After Qantas' international division posted a profit for the six months to 31-Dec-2014, the division's first positive result since the Global Financial Crisis, the division needs to move from profit to sustainability and delivering returns. But Qantas is now considering international expansion after many years of reductions. A flight to Tokyo has been added, seasonal services to Vancouver have returned, there are supplementary long-haul services and Perth-Singapore may even be re-opened. Reports suggest a return to Sydney-San Francisco is even possible.
“We continue to operate below our full potential,” Qantas reported in a recent government submission. But as Qantas considers international growth, it confronts a markedly different international environment. Qantas argues that Australia viewed it as “expendable” and gave away international traffic rights without receiving enough in return. Qantas seeks to slow liberalisation under the justification of enforcing Australia’s legal duty to support a local aviation industry. This is effectively a mask for protectionism, begging the question: what is the value of a local aviation industry?
China Southern Airlines nearing target of 55x flights to Australia/NZ, continuing international push
Chinese aviation often features "light switch" developments: the sector can fumble along and then suddenly, as if a switch is flicked, change mindset to an ambitious target and work tirelessly to achieve it. Such was China Southern's 2010 plan to focus on Australia/New Zealand. After having not even a daily service to Sydney, the relatively unknown Guangzhou-based airline is to have 55 weekly flights in 2015. And China Southern now looks likely to achieve the goal as the airline will 53 weekly flights to the region beginning in mid-2015. Increases over the busier holiday season could tip it past the 55 mark threshold.
The next challenge will inevitably be sustainability. China Southern's Australia/New Zealand capacity fluctuates more than other major Asian airlines, with its strong outbound-China market having sharp peak and off-peak seasons. Operating a full year of 55 weekly flights may be some years away. But there is no doubt the aviation and tourism markets are forever changed, with more to come. Not so long ago China was a small blip for Australia but now there are services from the Big 3 as well as two smaller carriers, along with a proposed JV between Qantas and China Eastern as well as Air New Zealand and Air China, developments hardly on the radar a few years ago. China Southern's international push – in Australia and beyond – has pushed international capacity growth from 19% to 31% of ASKs.