The CEO of Brisbane airport (BNE) has warned that “Policies must be put in place to ensure Australia’s connectivity to the world is protected”, or the country may risk being “left behind” by the international aviation sector.

This week BNE posted its lowest passenger number figures in a financial year since 1994, with fewer than eight million travellers passing through the airport, compared to over 23 million in 2019.

With borders effectively closed with exception of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, international passengers were down 95 per cent year-on-year to just 248,000.

The airport said that a lack of passengers meant “most of our international airlines were unable to operate in FY21, but there were a number of airlines that found a way to continue flying to BNE, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air Niugini, Air New Zealand, Qantas, China Airlines, and EVA Air”.

Domestic traffic fared better, although “repeated lockdowns and domestic border restrictions across the states and territories resulted in a 43 per cent decrease in domestic passengers year-on-year”.

Gert-Jan de Graaff, Brisbane Airport Corporation’s CEO, said that Australia was “uniquely reliant on aviation”, and warned that “Whilst we have managed through the last 18 months of this crisis with airlines and airports prepared to maintain air connections at great financial loss, this is simply not sustainable”.

“It is essential that all levels of government recognise that as other parts of the globe normalise, the highly competitive international aviation sector may well leave Australia behind,” said de Graaff. “Policies must be put in place to ensure Australia’s connectivity to the world is protected.

“We are eager to see the vaccination rates of Australians increase as soon as possible and move towards the ‘Consolidation Phase’ of the National Plan so we can allow vaccinated Australians to travel again, and vaccinated visitors to come to Australia.”