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Broome & Proserpine lead the nation’s air routesDomestic aviation
Air traffic: Last week the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) released top-level data on Australian domestic commercial aviation for June 2018 and the 2017/18 year. While official data on all routes hasn’t been officially released, it is possible to determine the fastest growing routes over 2017/18.
Regions dominate: In 2017/18 the number of passengers on the Brisbane-Proserpine route rose by 19.4 per cent, closely followed by the Broome-Perth route (up 19 per cent).
What does it all mean?
Aussies headed for the sun over the past year with Proserpine, Broome and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast amongst the fastest growing destinations together with Ballina in NSW. Of the 64 top routes with data over the past year, passengers on the Brisbane-Proserpine route lifted by 19.4 per cent, followed by Broome-Perth, up 19 per cent. The lift in travellers to Proserpine and the broader Whitsundays was offset by declines in passengers on the air routes to Hamilton Island, reflecting the impact of Cyclone Debbie in late March 2017.
The turnaround in the Broome-Perth route was especially remarkable with the rolling annual total of passengers hitting nine-year lows in May 2017. The State Government, domestic tourism authorities, Broome Airport, business groups and the local community have all been instrumental in driving tourist traffic to Broome from Perth and other capital cities over the past year.
What do the figures show?Air traffic
In 2017/18, 60.8 million passengers travelled on domestic RPT (regular passenger transport) airlines, up 2.5 per cent on a year ago – the strongest financial year result in five years. While passengers rose by 2.5 per cent, the available seats on planes rose by just 0.3 per cent. As a result, the load factor on planes rose from 78.4 per cent in 2016/17 to a record 80.1 per cent in 2017/18. 
Regional destinations grew the fastest over the 2017/18 year. BrisbaneProserpine lifted 19.4 per cent followed by Broome-Perth (up 19 per cent), Melbourne-Sunshine Coast (up 12.6 per cent) and Sunshine Coast-Sydney (up 9.7 per cent).
The biggest declines were on routes connecting Hamilton Island following the damage caused by Cyclone Debbie in late March 2017. Passengers on the Hamilton IslandSydney route fell by 14.4 per cent in 2017/18 followed by BrisbaneHamilton Island (down 12.6 per cent). But when combined with the BrisbaneProserpine route, travel to the region fell by just 1.1 per cent.
Passengers on the Melbourne-Sydney route, one of the world’s busiest, lifted by 3.1 per cent in 2017/18 to 9.25 million. Passengers on the Brisbane-Sydney route rose by 2 per cent to 4.79 million.
What is the importance of the economic data?
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) releases data on domestic aviation each month. The data is useful in tracking consumer spending and airline performance.
What are the implications for investors?
The lower Aussie dollar prompted more Aussies to take holidays locally over the past financial year and warmer destinations were very much in vogue.
The lift in domestic air travel over the past year supported airlines, hotels and a raft of other tourism-dependent businesses over the past year. Airlines benefitted from a lift in passengers but a smaller lift in available seats. Thus the load factor on planes hit record highs. The further softening of the Aussie dollar in recent months may drive additional growth for tourism businesses in 2018/19.
In 2017/18, three of the fastest growing domestic air routes included Perth, pointing to signs of recovery for the Western Australian economy. Queensland destinations also dominated the 20 fastest growing routes, also pointing to improved conditions for businesses in the state from tourism and mining.
Canberra was also in vogue in 2017/18 with travellers on the Adelaide-Canberra route up 8.5 per cent in 2017/18 with Canberra-Melbourne up 6.7 per cent and Brisbane Canberra up 5.7 per cent.
Published by Craig James, Chief Economist, CommSec