Sydney Airport Ends 2023 On High With 91% Recovery

Estimated read time 4 min read


  •  Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport ends 2023 on a high note, with its strongest monthly passenger traffic since 2019, marking a 90.6% recovery compared to pre-pandemic levels.
  •  International airlines outshined domestic airlines in contributing to the airport’s recovery, with a 29.4% increase in international passengers in December 2023 compared to the previous year.
  •  While domestic and regional traveler numbers lag behind, Sydney Airport remains optimistic, aiming to secure new services and grow seat capacity in 2024, further solidifying its position as Australia’s gateway.

After a year of ups and downs, Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport posted its strongest monthly passenger traffic since 2019 in December, ending 2023 with a 90.6% recovery compared to December 2019. The airport and its former CEO, Geoff Culbert, spent all year calling for local domestic airlines, like Qantas and Virgin Australia, to add more capacity, but in the end, it was the international airlines that came to the party.

Closing in on that elusive 100% recovery

Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD) ended 2023 with its largest passenger numbers since 2019, after 3.58 million travelers passed through its terminals in December last year. This traffic was a 15.8% increase from December 2022 and a 90.6% recovery compared to the 3.95 million it processed in December 2019.

Sydney airport is the busiest in Australia

Photo: Eigenblau | Shutterstock

In December, 1.50 million international passengers passed through Terminal 1, a 29.4% increase on 2022 and 93.3% of the 1.60 million in December 2019. Despite December being the peak travel month for holiday traffic, there were only 2.08 domestic and regional travelers, up just 7.6% on 2022 and well down on the 2.35 million in 2019, a recovery of just 88% to pre-pandemic levels.

Sydney Airport December 2023

Chart: Sydney Airport

December capped off a year where more than 38 million passengers passed through Sydney Airport, which was just 13% fewer than the record of 44.4 million set in 2019. December 2023 was also the first month that the reported number of travelers on Australian passports recovered to and beyond pre-COVID levels, growing 1.3% compared to the same month in 2019.

Vietjet VJ085 Arrival Sydney

Photo: Sydney Airport

Australians have been looking forward to a full year without border issues and for international airfares to start falling from their high levels during the year. Vietnamese airline Vietjet arrived in April 2023, and its aggressive pricing immediately pressured the incumbents. Prices began to gradually return to affordable levels, with more international roaring back during the rest of the year.

Already looking to a better 2022

Sydney Airport CEO Scott Charlton said the milestone results for December reinforced just how big the year has been for the airport’s recovery, adding that Australian passenger volumes moving beyond 2019 levels is a fantastic way to close out 2023 and draw a line under the COVID era.

“Domestically, airline capacity is continuing to impact passenger volumes and there’s still work to do before we see travel habits return to pre-pandemic levels. We look forward to growing extra seat capacity and securing new services in 2024 and further cementing our position as Australia’s gateway.

“International passenger volumes have almost fully recovered, and we have experienced one of the strongest China recoveries of any international airport globally with nine airlines flying 89 return services weekly to mainland China.”

Of the top 10 nationalities traveling through Sydney Airport in December, there were only three that surpassed 2019 levels: South Korea (+28.5%), India (+3.1%), and Australia (+1.3%). There are some major gains to be made in 2024 as Japan is down by 23.7%, China by 20.5%, the United Kingdom by 18.3%, the United States by 15.4%, New Zealand by 9.5%, Canada by 6.7% and Indonesia by 3.5%.


Photo: Kurt Ams

Now that group travel between Australia and China has been fully reinstated, it is likely the China numbers will quickly start to close the gap to 2019 numbers, assuming that the Chinese regain their appetite for international travel. The others may come back more incrementally during 2024, but the signs are there for a successful year ahead at Sydney Airport.

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