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With a very large land mass and vast uninhabited areas, aviation is vital to Australia's economic and social fabric. Australia’s main international gateways are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast. The commercial aviation market is comprised of four main carriers that serve the domestic routes: national carrier Qantas Airways; Jetstar (Qantas’ LCC unit); Virgin Australia and Tigerair Australia (Virgin's LCC unit).
Australia's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government – the key regulatory arm for national aviation – has established an open skies policy framework. The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) monitors safety and maintenance standards, while Airservices Australia is a corporatised (government-owned) air traffic controller.
Airports in Australia
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Competition could again intensify on Australia-Bali routes, despite the upcoming withdrawal of AirAsia X. The long haul low cost group drove 7% growth in the Australia-Bali market in 2015 but is suspending services to Bali from Melbourne and Sydney at the end of Aug-2016.
The Lion Group and Turkish Airlines are both looking to launch services between Bali and Australia, which could potentially fill the void left by AirAsia X in the Bali to Melbourne and Sydney markets. The Lion Group could also fill the void in the Bali-Brisbane market left by Garuda Indonesia, which suspended services to Brisbane in early 2015.
The Australia-Bali market has grown steadily and nearly quadrupled in size over the last decade. However competition is intense, making it difficult for any new entrant – as AirAsia X discovered.
Australia-Philippines market faces overcapacity concerns as Cebu Pacific, PAL plan further expansion
Passenger traffic between Australia and the Philippines grew by 39% in 2015, making it Australia’s fastest growing international market. The Australia-Philippines market is poised for more rapid growth driven by expansion at Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines (PAL).
PAL is planning to use its new A321neo fleet to launch new nonstop flights to Brisbane and potentially add a second frequency to Sydney. Cebu Pacific plans to launch service to Melbourne as it expands its A330-300 fleet.
However, overcapacity is a major concern. Cebu Pacific’s entrance has stimulated demand but impacted load factors and yields. In 2015 the average load factor on Australia-Philippines flights was less than 67%, including a dismal 60% at PAL and only 64% at Cebu Pacific.
Australia's regional aviation market is undergoing adjustment as Virgin Australia gently withdraws from its high stakes bet on the resources market; Jetgo Australia carves a valuable niche in long, thin flying; and Australia's first all-you-can-fly operator Airly plans its entry. Meanwhile, Regional Express' streak of profitability ends with its first-ever loss in 1HFY2016. Rex has not experienced passenger growth since 2009 and while its network has grown, ASKs are down, profits continue to fall and load factors have only recently stabilised. With a slowing resources sector and weak domestic business demand, Rex expects flat profit growth heading through to FY2016.
JetGo has been the standout in the regional market - defying expectations to carve a relatively successful niche of long, thin city pairs. Its success has been largely in connecting frustrated regional markets with major cities using regional jets. After a patchy start - none of its original routes remain operating - the airline has expanded further up the East Coast as its previous core of resources FIFO work has diminished.
Virgin Australia's move into regional Australia was always ambitious, and the acquisition of Skywest even more so. Its big bet on resources traffic has failed to pay off as mineral prices have fallen and the industry broadly has shifted from construction to production, but a partnership with Alliance and an improving freight business provide some bright spots in a muddy outlook.
The Lufthansa Group is taking measures across its three full service brands to recalibrate in East Asia, its second largest long haul market by ASKs after North America - and with the highest growth potential. Hong Kong has been the group's de facto hub, historically, despite the lack of a Star Alliance partner. JVs are forming with Star partners Singapore Airlines and Air China, and the Hong Kong hub will diminish in importance. This will take time: JVs with Singapore Airlines and Air China are evolving slowly, with the Asian party being conservative compared with the more experienced Lufthansa.
The JVs will enable the Lufthansa Group to fill white spots (Malaysia, Indonesia) and improve offline connections; Australia is the group's largest offline market. Many of these opportunities are markets where Gulf airlines have already dominated the market. Lufthansa has an existing JV with ANA: 17% of East Asian seats are covered under a JV. After the Air China and SIA JVs come into force this figure will rise to 64% – still less than JV coverage in North America.
Chinese visitors are reshaping tourism flows and aviation opportunities in many markets. This has been readily apparent in Australia, where China Southern in the space of a few years has become a household name, and Chinese tourists are the second largest visitor source. The next manifestation could be a Chinese airline purchasing the stake in Virgin Australia that Air New Zealand is looking to divest itself of. China Southern and Hainan Airlines are evaluating the opportunity, according to the Australian Financial Review.
China Southern would benefit from a stronger local partner after its previous partner Qantas formed a JV with the rival China Eastern. With every Chinese visitor taking two to three domestic Australian flights, an equity stake could allow the Chinese airline to capture back revenue streams. China Southern could also invest as a defensive move. Hainan serves Australia seasonally and its use of Virgin could be more radical, with an outcome of Virgin flying to mainland China and Hong Kong, accessing routes that Hainan's HNA Group (including Hong Kong Airlines) is unable to serve. Hainan already has an airline investment portfolio but Virgin would be its most significant. For China Southern, a Virgin stake could start state-owned Chinese airlines buying foreign airlines as they seek to be at the centre of most things in the world; including, one day, global consolidation.
Air New Zealand to sell Virgin Australia stake to fund expansion: Chengdu could be next after Manila
Air New Zealand has been on a long haul growth streak, opening five destinations since 2015. Manila was most recently announced and Chengdu could be next, once again giving Air NZ two destinations in mainland China after exiting Beijing. Chengdu as a destination – or another city – would mean that Air New Zealand would serve more points in Asia than Qantas.
Globally, Air NZ is catching up to Qantas for destinations outside Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands. In 2006 Qantas served 21 points outside the region and in 2016 serves 18, although this is an increase from the situations in recent years. Where Qantas has cut, Air New Zealand has grown, increasing from 10 long haul destinations in 2006 to 16 (if Chengdu is included) in 2016. With Air New Zealand due to receive nine 787-9s through 2019, with only some of those due to replace existing aircraft, the airline could serve more points than Qantas. A sale of Air NZ's stake in Virgin Australia could pay the cost of three widebody aircraft and possibly accelerate Air NZ's growth even more. Qantas will remain bigger for number of flights and seats. Qantas offers upwards of five daily flights to Singapore whereas Air NZ offers just one.