Passenger traffic is again on the upswing at Broome as the small Western Australia city benefits from additional flights to Perth and a new trial route to Singapore.
- Broome Airport expects to record its first annual increase in passenger traffic in four years in FY2018;
- Broome traffic is growing again due mainly to increased capacity on the Broome-Perth route from both Qantas and Virgin Australia;
- Broome’s aspirations to attract more international visitors received a recent boost with the announcement of four trial flights to Singapore in Jun-2018 by SilkAir;
- Domestic visitor numbers to Broome have surged over the last several years but international visitor numbers have been relatively stagnant and account for a small fraction of total visitors.
Broome Airport passenger traffic declined by 5% in the fiscal year ending Jun-2017 (FY2017) to 384,000 passengers, marking the fourth consecutive year of declines. Broome traffic peaked at 445,000 in FY2013 and more than doubled in the 10 years to FY2013.
Broome expects passenger traffic to increase by 8% in FY2018, exceeding 400,000 for the first time since FY2014. A surge in traffic on the core Broome-Perth route, which has attracted additional flights from both Qantas and Virgin Australia, is driving the recovery in growth. However, of more strategic significance is the securing of a new service from Singapore on a trial basis, ending a long attempt by Broome Airport to woo a Singapore based airline.
Singapore Airlines regional subsidiary SilkAir is operating four return flights on the Broome-Singapore route in Jun-2018, using 162-seat 737-800s. The new flights are aimed mainly at developing tourism in Broome and the Kimberley region. Holiday packages are being sold in Singapore with support from Western Australia tourism authorities.
The city of Broome, along with Broome Airport and regional tourism authorities, have been trying to secure a route to Singapore for several years. Broome initially presented a business case for a Broome-Singapore service in 2012 to SilkAir and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia. While SilkAir has only agreed to offer four trial flights, the city and airport are hopeful the trial will be successful, leading to a regularly scheduled service.
Broome and the Kimberley region has the potential to become a popular international tourist destination but has been held back by years from lack of connectivity and high air fares. Broome Airport does not have any international services and is only connected on a year-round basis with other airports in Western Australia.
Perth is by far Broome’s largest route, accounting for 289,000 or nearly 80% of Broome’s total 364,000 passengers in FY2017, according to BITRE data. Broome is also served from Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra, two smaller regional destinations within Western Australia, as well as Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. However, the Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney routes do not operate year-round.
Qantas currently operates 21 weekly flights on the Broome-Perth route, while Virgin Australia operates 14 frequencies. QantasLink operates Boeing 717s and Fokker 100s on the route, while Virgin Australia uses Fokker 100s.
Qantas and Virgin Australia both increased capacity on the Broome-Perth route last winter by adding frequencies. Qantas upgraded Broome-Perth from 19 to 24 weekly flights at the end of Jul-2017 and maintained 24 weekly flights until late Dec-2017, when it cut back slightly for the off-peak summer months. Virgin Australia operated up to 19 weekly frequencies during peak periods in its winter 2017 schedule and plans to again have 19 weekly flights to Broome from the start of the next winter schedule in late Mar-2018.
Airnorth also plans to relaunch nonstop flights from Broome to Darwin in its winter 2018 schedule, which should provide a further boost to Broome’s overall traffic levels. Airnorth currently only serves Broome from Kununurra with a daily Embraer E170 flight that continues onto Darwin. Airnorth previously operated nonstop flights on the Broome-Darwin route and also previously linked Broome with Karratha. A smaller regional airline, Skippers Aviation, currently operates three weekly flights from Broome to Fitroy’s Crossing using small turboprop aircraft.
Broome has succeeded at boosting domestic tourism, aided by the seasonal direct flights from Australia’s three largest cities. During the peak winter months Qantas operates three weekly flights on Broome-Melbourne, two weekly flights on Broome-Sydney and one weekly flight on Broome-Brisbane. Qantas has a reduced schedule of two weekly flights on Broome-Melbourne for most of the year but does not operate any flights on the route for about three months during the wet season each summer. The Broome-Sydney route is not served for six months each year (it only operates during the winter schedule) while Broome-Brisbane is only operated for three months each winter.
Broome attracted an estimated 275,600 average annual visitors in the 2014 to 2016 period, according to Tourism WA data. However, only 12% or 33,200 of the estimated annual visitors were from overseas. International visitor numbers increased by a modest 14% compared with the 2011 to 2013 period while domestic visitor numbers surged by 60%.
New international flights should enable Broome and the Kimberley region to attract significantly more overseas visitors. The recent increase in domestic capacity should help boost visitor numbers from within Australia and, to a lesser extent, internationally.