Melbourne Airport has attributed a 17 per cent drop in international passenger numbers for February to the unprecedented bushfire season and the early stages of the global COVID-19 health emergency.
Around 150,000 fewer travellers flew internationally than during the same month of 2019, with the reduction sparked by travel bans put in place for mainland China as well as similar travel restrictions enacted by other countries.
Domestic traffic declined 5.2 per cent year-on-year.
Melbourne Airport chief executive Lyell Strambi forecasts ongoing challenges as the global aviation industry adapts to the constantly changing status of the COVID-19 epidemic.
"These are unprecedented circumstances buffeting our customers, and we are keenly aware that all our airline customers are hurting as a result of diminished passenger demand," says Strambi.
"That's why we are working with every single airline to understand how we can best support them at this time.
"February's drop in passenger numbers was significant, but we expect that to be amplified even further in March and possibly again as we head towards the Australian winter."
Strambi emphasises airlines are one vital part of a much greater industry, and for every passenger they lose that impact is felt many times over throughout the sector.
"Right here at the airport, we feel the loss of every passenger several times over," he says.
"Airport operators charge agreed fees to airlines on a per-passenger basis, meaning that airlines don't pay landing or terminal fees on any empty seat.
"The passenger who doesn't fly, also doesn't catch a SkyBus, or an Uber, or a taxi. They don't buy a coffee or a book, grab a meal or pick up a souvenir."
He says airports can play a stabilising role throughout the current health crisis, enabling the global travel sector to rebound quickly when the time is right.
"We've seen major disruptions to the travel industry many times before, from the loss of Ansett to 9/11, from SARS to the Global Financial Crisis," he says.
"In every case, travel takes a hit, and in every case - once the immediate crisis has passed, the industry comes back stronger than it was before."
Updated at 12:30pm AEDT on 12 March 2020.
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