Soft landing for airfares but cancellations hang around

Domestic flights are getting cheaper but delays and cancellations remain rife as the aviation industry returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Airfares have eased from the highs reached after Australia reopened its borders in 2022, the competition watchdog has found.

Cheaper fuel, additional seats and cooler demand meant the cost of flying within Australia was 13.4 per cent lower than a year ago.

However, reliability was still an issue, with the percentage of flights arriving on time hovering at roughly 60 per cent, compared with a long-term average of 81.1 per cent.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's report landed after a parliamentary hearing focused on flight delays.

A shortage of air traffic controllers nationwide contributed to poor performance, AirServices Australia told a Senate committee this week.

Six per cent of flight cancellations and 16 per cent of ground delays were because of a lack of controllers.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie questioned the agency about two air traffic controllers who called in sick, sparking major delays and flight cancellations.

AirServices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield confirmed Sydney airport's traffic control mechanisms were significantly impacted.

“If all it takes is a couple of air traffic controllers to ground flights throughout Australia, a serious overhaul of AirServices Australia is wholly necessary," Senator McKenzie said. 

The entry of low-cost regional carrier Bonza improved conditions for travellers, the ACCC said.

The watchdog found 24 of 35 routes operated by Bonza were unserved by other airlines and almost all were in and out of regional destinations. 

Popular journeys were also subject to greater competition with up to four airlines competing on some routes, with pre-pandemic rivalry limited to at most two companies for any flight path, the ACCC found.

Qantas remained the single largest operator in the sky, with six in ten Australian passengers flying with the airline. 

The ACCC noted general dissatisfaction with customer service across the industry remained at an all-time high, with complaints to the watchdog about airline issues 100 per cent higher than in 2019. 

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