Gold Coast Airport passenger numbers continued to be significantly impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions in September, down 96 per cent compared to the same time last year.
There were 526,599 fewer people flying in and out of the region last month – highlighting the ongoing challenges for the airport and the tourism sector it supports.
The figures follow similar declines since the Queensland border was shut on 25 March – amounting to 3.08 million fewer people travelling in the past six months, or 97 per cent less.
Queensland Airports Limited CEO Chris Mills said Gold Coast Airport had been particularly hard hit by travel restrictions, given the reliance on the leisure market and importance of connections to Sydney and Melbourne.
Prior to the pandemic, Sydney to Gold Coast was the fourth busiest route in the country.
“Gold Coast Airport is normally the sixth busiest airport in Australia, welcoming and farewelling about 18,000 passengers and with 60 return flights daily,” Mr Mills said.
“But in September there were only three to four return flights per day, with an average of 750 passengers.”
Mr Mills said tough decisions had been necessary to steer the business through the past six months, while the tourism and aviation sectors waited for clear guidance on borders opening.
“All of our employees were partially or fully stood down in late March. But as the restrictions continued, it became evident that further measures were necessary – our workforce has now been reduced by around 30 per cent since the start of the pandemic. That’s 71 people who were once part of the team,” he said.
Those numbers exclude other contractors and companies which are directly dependent on the airport for business, such as retailers, cleaners, and limousine drivers.
Mr Mills said the health and financial crisis came at a particularly challenging time for the company, when a significant capital program was underway at Gold Coast Airport.
“The best time to undertake construction work at any airport would be now, when there is little operational impact. But revenue has been significantly impacted and a measured approach is therefore required,” he said.
The Rydges airport hotel will still open later this year. The terminal expansion which was due to be completed in 2021 has now been delayed until 2022. Other projects have been stopped or slowed down.
Mr Mills said shareholders and lenders continued to support priority projects, understanding the benefit the infrastructure would deliver for years to come.
He called on government to establish realistic triggers and timelines relating to the ongoing management of the pandemic.
“What appeared to be the most promising prospect, a reopening to New South Wales, is dependent on that state achieving an extremely high hurdle of 28 days with no unlinked community transmission,” Mr Mills said.
“The lack of realistic nationwide definitions to determine a hot spot, or to clarify when borders will open or close, makes forecasting a return of domestic travel difficult. If Australia can’t get together and agree rules for domestic travel, people start to question our ability to re-open international travel. The Gold Coast is a key destination for New Zealand and Asian markets. There is significant pent up demand which the Gold Coast is missing out on at the moment.”
Queensland Airports Limited owns and operates the Gold Coast, Townsville, Mount Isa and Longreach airports.