Brisbane opens new runway as plan to double passengers to 50 million

Brisbane inaugurated its new runway – its third – on 12 July, future-proofing the airport for a post-coronavirus world.

The airport expects passengers to increase to 50 million by 2040 – about double its volume last year.

The first aircraft to depart from the opened runway was a Virgin Australia B737-800 operating flight 781 to Cairns, which departed Brisbane at 1115.

Take off after 15 years 

The result of 15 years of planning, approval, and construction – and many decades of expectation – Brisbane’s new runway opened three months early and below-budget at $1.1 billion (against $1.3 billion). 

This development is key to the city and state’s competitiveness and future.

As Brisbane Airport Corporation’s CEO, Gert-Jan de Graaff, said: “Brisbane Airport will be the only non-capacity constrained, curfew-free capital city airport in the country.”

And from capacity greatly increasing, BAC expects not just growth but also no aircraft delays – which had been a problem at peak times.

Brisbane opens new runway as plan to double passengers to 50 million

Delegates from the 145th IATA Slots celebrated on Brisbane’s runway while it was being constructed.

Brisbane had 23% of Australia’s seats last year…

Australia’s third-largest airport by two-way seats, Brisbane had almost 23% of the country’s seat capacity last year, OAG Schedules data shows.

In that year, Qantas had a 34% share, followed very closely by Virgin Australia with 32% – just 544,000 seats separated the two. 

Virgin Australia’s fight for survival continues, with its sale not expected to be official until the end of August, with little idea yet exactly how the carrier will look – including its size and network – in the future.

Qantas’ Jetstar had almost 11% with 3.3 million seats last year, while Virgin Australia’s Tiger Airways Australia – which has now ceased operating – had almost 5% with 1.4 million.

… but Brisbane’s seat development has been constrained

There is no denying that Brisbane’s total seat capacity has grown shallowly since 2014, up by just 501,000 by 2019 with a CAGR of 0.27%.

The airport has had very few slots available, especially at key times – which its new runway will help to mitigate.

Brisbane opens new runway as plan to double passengers to 50 million

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

From domestic cuts…

The above figure misses a crucial point, though.

Domestic seats fell by over a million in 2019 versus 2014, largely the result of Qantas cutting over 1.3 million seats and Jetstar reducing domestic capacity by more than 350,000.

This was somewhat offset by increases from Tiger Airways Australia (+349,000 seats) and Virgin Australia (+182,000) and the entry and growth of Fly Corporate and Alliance Airlines, among others.

Brisbane opens new runway as plan to double passengers to 50 million

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

… with Brisbane’s surprisingly low LCC penetration not helping

Despite being the much-visited capital of the tourism state of Queensland, Brisbane has relatively low – and broadly flat – penetration by LCCs.  

Last year, the airport’s share of LCC seats totalled just under 16%, fewer than at Melbourne (25%) and Sydney (20%).

While not helped by the loss of Tiger Airways Australia, the domestic market could receive a real boost if and when another LCC – independent or not – materialises.

Yet, Brisbane’s international seats have taken off from launches…

Unlike the domestic market, almost 1.6 million international seats were added in 2019 versus 2014.

Among other international developments, this was from welcoming Air Canada from Vancouver (2016), China Eastern from Shanghai Pudong (2016), Malindo Air from Kuala Lumpur and Denpasar (2017), Royal Brunei from Bandar (2019), and Samoa Airways from Apia (2018).

It also welcomed back Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur last year.

… and strong capacity growth

Since 2014, EVA Airways has more than doubled Brisbane capacity (+155% to 141,300 seats), as did fellow Taiwanese operator China Airlines (+108% to 435,200 seats). 

Meanwhile, China Southern almost did the same (+73% to 200,200 seats), as did Philippine Airlines (+81% to 90,000 seats). 

Elsewhere, both Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines added one-third more seats, at 201,000 and 204,000 respectively.

In ‘normal’ times, Singapore Airlines services Brisbane 28-weekly and Air New Zealand up to 32-weekly.

Raising the question: where’s next?

International growth will be a core part of Brisbane’s development, especially within Asia, although the airport seeks Dallas and Seattle in North America with all the connecting opportunities available over them.

Delhi is Brisbane’s largest unserved market, with 73,000 two-way passengers.  Brisbane and the wider region, including the Gold Coast, is becoming more popular than ever with Indian tourists.

The airport also seeks service to more Chinese cities, especially secondary, with OAG Traffic Analyser showing that about 300,000 flew indirectly between Brisbane and China last year.  Reinstating Beijing – with 71,100 P2P passengers – is a key priority.

Southeast Asia is of great importance, with almost 500,000 indirect passengers last year.  Top by traffic were Ho Chi Minh City (51,000), Jakarta (38,000), and Phuket (60,000). 

Brisbane opens new runway as plan to double passengers to 50 million

James Pearson,’s Chief Analyser and Editor, also celebrated on the airport’s new runway. He lived in Brisbane for a while and thoroughly loved the heat, cafe culture, and nearby rainforests and beaches. He hiked regularly in its rainforests.



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