Sydney Airport braces for 2.4m Easter travellers, repeats call for regulatory change

Sydney Airport is ready for the 2.4 million travellers set to pass through its terminals over Easter, but boss Geoff Culbert admits the airport’s ability to catch up after delays or cancellations is hindered by outdated regulations.

About 2.4 million people are forecast to pass through Sydney’s terminals from April 3 to April 23, with more than 1.5 million domestic passengers and 850,000 international passengers expected. This is the highest number of passengers over a holiday period since before the COVID-19 pandemic and marks a 90 per cent recovery on the same period in 2019, and a 34 per cent increase on 2022.

Sydney Airport chief executive Geoff Culbert wants more operational flexibility.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Culbert said his frustration at the curfew and restricted movement regulations are well documented. He hopes one of the consequences of the coming Harris review into Sydney Airport’s demand management scheme would be added flexibility.

“We’ve been speaking to the government about the fact the rules are outdated and lead to an inability for us to catch up, which ultimately hurts the travelling public.”

Sydney Airport has a curfew between 11pm and 6am and must not exceed 80 flights in any given hour. These restrictions create logistical chaos during bouts of bad weather. The airport is also increasingly constrained to single runway operations by the government body responsible for air navigation safety, Airservices Australia.

One in four flights were delayed in February, with 1500 cancelled. Airlines were quick to blame the shortage of air traffic controllers, which are employed by Airservices Australia, and the bad weather at Sydney Airport for the bulk of the poor performance.

A Qantas spokesperson pointed out that air traffic control staffing shortages impacted operations at the airport on 25 out of 28 days in February. A Virgin statement confirmed it was also affected by the shortages, the ground delay program and the weather.

Airbiz modelling in 2019 shows a three-hour weather disruption in the afternoon results in 41 uncleared flights by the time the 11pm curfew kicks in. Those missed flights cause 8000 unintended overnight stays in Sydney, 80,000 hours of delays and a backlog of flights that cannot be cleared until 11am the next day.

Culbert said the February bookings prove Australians continue to view holidays as a priority despite the steep price of airfares, and welcomed the boost in international arrivals, which has doubled since last year.

“Across markets like India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Canada we will have more airline capacity in April than we did at any point in 2019,” Culbert said.

Travellers at Sydney Airport with hand luggage are now advised to arrive one hour before departure, while those checking bags should arrive two hours before their flight.Credit:Oscar Colman

Last week Culbert hit out at the high airfare environment and reduced flight capacity as the reason Sydney’s recovery has been hampered. Domestic passenger traffic has hovered at just over 80 per cent of pre-pandemic figures since April last year.

“Our focus is always getting more capacity back into the system to ensure our passengers have more choice. We think that ultimately leads to more affordable airfares,” he said on Tuesday.

Data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Research Economics released on Thursday shows that in March the cheapest discount economy and business class fares have been at the highest rates since December, despite trending down from a 15-year peak in the middle of 2022.

The airport has also updated the arrival guidance for domestic flights now it’s less affected by staff shortages that caused travel chaos for holiday periods in 2022.

Those with hand luggage are now advised to arrive just one hour before departure while those checking bags should arrive two hours before their flight. The guidance for international passengers remains at three hours ahead of departure.

The airport said its total workforce was close to its pre-pandemic total of 33,000 workers. This recovery is reflected in the security clearance time, the metric closely watched by airports all over the world to gauge operational efficiency.

The airport estimated 95 per cent of domestic passengers cleared security within five minutes over the busy December to January school holiday period, with the remaining 5 per cent clearing security in 15 minutes. This progress from snaking queues and lengthy delays that plagued the bulk of 2022’s holiday periods led to the airport updating its guidance.

The airport had previously asked all domestic passengers to arrive two hours ahead of flights.

The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.

Most Viewed in Business

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article