Brisbane interview: currently Australia’s #1 airport by domestic passengers

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

Brisbane opened its new runway, its third, on 12 July 2020.

We speak with Jim Parashos, Brisbane’s Executive GM of Aviation, about the airport, its current happenings including with Virgin Australia’s buyout, and the airport’s future.

Virgin Australia has confirmed that Brisbane will continue to be its home base and HQ following its buyout. What does this mean to you?

Jim Parashos: Our teams, along with the Queensland Government, have been working very closely with Virgin Australia across a range of areas during these challenging times.  We have better understood its immediate – but importantly also its future – needs. How can we best support them for a successful recovery?

The commitment Virgin Australia has made to remain in Brisbane is welcomed by Brisbane Airport Corporation, and I believe it is a reflection of that collaboration.

We see many opportunities to deepen our collaboration with Virgin Australia with its new operational requirements together with its schedule and network development. 

Brisbane will be a key hub for Virgin Australia’s future given the strength of its network here, together with the likely travel bubbles to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands from the airport.

Virgin Australia has called Brisbane home for years, and we will always be invested in seeing its success into the future.

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

Jim Parashos, Brisbane’s Executive GM of Aviation, says that he expects LCCs to be a bigger proportion of the airport’s future. In terms of unserved routes, Ho Chi Minh City is key.

Brisbane’s total seats increased by half-a-million between 2014 and 2019 with a CAGR of 0.27%. Clearly your third runway, opened in July, will be pivotal for future growth. How will this impact you?

Parashos: The new parallel runway at Brisbane Airport has been a focal point of our development for years. It:

  • Gives us the capacity to rival many other major hubs in the region
  • Has provided a huge increase in awareness of Brisbane as a destination
  • Has highlighted the story of growth for our city on the global stage

The challenge now is to drive that added capacity and make it work for us and for our airline partners, in an environment where artificial barriers like domestic border closures are limiting our opportunities for growth.

As border restrictions are lifted, generating future demand will be more important than ever before. The city of Brisbane has evolved, people are interested, and the global aviation community is aware of our progress.

Now we have the capacity to take advantage of that demand.

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

Brisbane’s new runway was officially open for use on 12 July. This Virgin Australia B737-800 was the first to use it.

Last year, Brisbane’s share of LCC seats totalled just under 16%, fewer than Melbourne (25%) and Sydney (20%). What will you be doing to drive this further?

Parashos: Brisbane’s share of LCC seats is influenced by having a more extensive network than Melbourne and Sydney, with many of these routes being resources (FIFO) driven or smaller regional markets that require connectivity beyond Brisbane.

We also expect the LCC shares to shift in the coming 12 months as structural changes occur in the domestic market.

That said, Brisbane will also seek to grow LCC capacity given we are the third-largest city in Australia.

We’ve made some good progress in improving our international LCC services in recent years.  Thai AirAsia X commenced Brisbane services in mid-2019, and Jetstar has added approximately 30% more seat capacity to Denpasar Bali.

We know there are opportunities.

As the rebuilding phase sets in, we’re very keen to look at opportunities with LCCs that may not have made sense prior to the pandemic but which may be worthwhile now. The likely introduction of long-haul narrowbodies in the LCC segment will also provide unique growth opportunities for us.

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

Thai AirAsia began Bangkok Don Mueang to Brisbane in June 2019 using A330-300s. Currently suspended, it was served three-weekly.

Brisbane added almost 1.6 million international seats between 2014 and 2019, a significant development. How is Brisbane doing internationally now compared with other Australian airports?

Parashos: At the moment, Brisbane is Australia’s busiest airport by domestic passenger numbers, and we’ve been fortunate enough to leverage on a highly well-connected intrastate network to places such as Cairns, Mackay, and Townsville. 

In addition, we benefit from places, such as Adelaide and Darwin, that can travel into Queensland without the constraints of mandatory quarantine.

The international market is currently distorted due to government restrictions and caps on international arrivals.

However, we believe that our local market and the volume of our connections domestically in Australia will position us as a forerunner for the recommencement of international services when the time comes.

Our population has continued to travel within our region, and Brisbane’s extremely low levels of infection have seen us as a global city able to continue operations and even build activity in certain areas of the economy such as major events, local tourism, and international film productions.

More importantly, we’ve also seen our international trade and export connections become important beacons of continued opportunity. 

The likes of Japan Airlines and Garuda Indonesia resuming freight-only services to Brisbane, joining long-term partners like EVA Air, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Air Niugini, and Air New Zealand all operating to Brisbane for trade during the pandemic.

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

Last year, Australia’s domestic market accounted for 73% of the airport’s total seats.

Qatar Airways is continuing to serve Brisbane. Do you expect it to continue as coronavirus subsides?

Parashos: Brisbane Airport has had a long-standing relationship with Qatar Airways over many years dating back well prior to the current pandemic and their recent commencement of services into Brisbane.

Qatar Airways has provided Australia with an essential service in a time of high need, and we look forward to being able to reciprocate that support for the airline in the future.

It is, of course, important to highlight that Qatar Airways’ Brisbane services have occurred within the current bilateral agreement of 21 frequencies per week.  As the market recovers, the agreement would have to be expanded to allow Qatar Airways to continue to operate, unless it reduced frequencies at other Australian airports.

Brisbane interview: currently Australia's #1 airport by domestic passengers

What are Brisbane’s top unserved routes?

Parashos: In anticipating our international borders opening up to the world again, we expect there to be some constraints under which Australia’s international airports can rebuild connectivity dependent on wider bilateral negotiations.

But within those constraints, we would expect Auckland, Singapore, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Doha, Dubai, Tokyo, and Vancouver as all being important international cities for recommencement in the short term. 

In terms of unserved markets, we see Ho Chi Minh City emerging as a strong opportunity, as well as Chicago and San Francisco which were due to operate in 2020.

Pitch Brisbane in a sentence for a new airline in a post-coronavirus world.

Parashos: We’re the busiest airport in Australia for a reason!  And we have the biggest domestic network by a long way. 


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