Airlines are wasting slots, Sydney Airport chief says

Ahead of an appearance by the airport this week at the Daniel Mulino-led parliamentary committee inquiry into promoting economic dynamism, competition and business formation, Mr Culbert said the domestic activity demonstrates the airlines are hoarding slots.

While Qantas says its domestic capacity is already at pre-COVID-19 levels, the airlines continue to cancel flights in and out of Sydney at a much higher rate than any other airport in the country, causing disruptions across the entire network.

Qantas’ outgoing head of domestic aviation, Andrew David, said last month the airports were blaming airlines for weather issues and simply trying to reallocate slots to larger international flights because it drives their revenue. He said Qantas uses about 90 per cent of its slots and hands back the rest.

Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics figures released for June showed cancellations were highest on the Canberra-Sydney route at 9.6 per cent, followed by the Sydney-Canberra route at 9.2 per cent, the Melbourne-Sydney route at 8.9 per cent, and the Sydney-Melbourne route at 8.4 per cent.

Overall cancellation rates remain at about double the long-term average at 3.6 per cent, while on time performance sits around 70 per cent. The airports say airlines rotate cancellations across different services to ensure they meet rules that allow them to maintain a slot as long as it is used 80 per cent of the time.

The airport is expected to back calls from former productivity commission boss Peter Harris to properly audit the reasons for cancellations to ensure airlines are not slot-hoarding. There are also calls to address the way slots are managed and to increase the usage rules to 90 per cent.


After the government chose to block the expansion of Qatar Airways’ landing rights, Mr Culbert stressed there was strong demand from international travellers that remained unmet by capacity.

“The lag is being driven by a lack of seat capacity rather than a lack of demand,” Mr Culbert said. “Additionally, seats from the Middle East remain well below pre-COVID levels, down 27 per cent on July 2019.”

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