With a surface area of 7,688,000 square kilometres, Australia is an enormous country, 26 times the size of Italy. Its population, which is extremely small compared to the surface area available – 25.69 million people – is far from uniformly distributed around the territory, and there is a very high degree of urbanization. So Australians are mainly concentrated in the south-eastern corner of the country, where the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane are situated, and generally in the cities along the coast. Given the vastness of the country and how the territory is spread out, it is not surprising that there are a lot of very large airports: today we take a look at the 10 largest and busiest airports in Australia.
The 10 biggest and busiest Australian airports
1- Sydney airport
Sydney airport is definitely the largest Australian airport. In the period 2018-2019 (from the data collected by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics), it registered 44 million passengers. After a fall in numbers to 7 million during the period 2020-2021, in the midst of the global health crisis, passenger traffic started increasing again in the period 2021-2022 as international travel resumed, arriving at 13 million. As with most other international airports, we will need to wait for data from the period 2022-2023 to see numbers comparable to the period before the pandemic.
The full name of the airport is Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport; it is situated just 8 kilometres from Sydney’s financial centre, and has 4 passenger terminals and a total surface area of 17 square kilometres. Aircraft from over 40 different airlines take off from its runways, serving 46 national and 43 international destinations.
2- Melbourne airport
Coming a solid second in the list of the busiest airports in Australia is Melbourne airport, which registered 37 million passengers in the period 2018-2019. Also known as Tullamarine Airport, it opened in 1970, and is now one of 4 airports serving the city. It is situated 23 kilometres north-west of the city centre. The airport has 4 terminals, 1 for international flights and 3 for domestic flights.
3- Brisbane airport
Taking third place in the rankings of the busiest airports in Australia is Brisbane airport: in fact, the largest airports in Australia are all concentrated in the same “corner” of the continent. During the period 2019-2020, this airport registered 23.6 million passengers, served by 31 different airlines flying to 50 national and 20 international destinations. To be a stickler for the facts, in the period 2020-2021, during the pandemic, Brisbane airport actually overtook its competitor, Melbourne, before returning to its usual third place in 2022.
4- Perth airport
With 12.4 million passengers passing through it in 2018-2019, Perth airport regularly comes fourth in the rankings of the busiest airports in Australia. It is definitely the busiest airport in Western Australia, partly, or especially, because it has so many domestic flights: for example, the journey by air between Perth and Sydney takes about 4 hours and is very popular. But there are also important international flights, such as the historic direct connection between Perth and London and the heavily used connection with Singapore.
5- Adelaide airport
During the period 2018-2019, Adelaide airport had 8.3 million passengers travel through it. It is located 6 kilometres west of this southern Australian city, and was constructed in 1955 and expanded in 2005, enabling the airport to become the second best airport in the world in 2006 in its category. Compared with the other airports considered so far, Adelaide has fewer international flights: for example, there are no connections with Europe, Africa or America.
6- Gold Coast airport
Also known as Coolangatta airport, this airport is situated about 90 kilometres south of Brisbane, and thus comes within the area “covered” by the top 3 busiest airports in Australia. Gold Coast airport is located exactly on the border between Queensland and New South Wales; since the two states have different time zones during the summer, it was decided that the airport would always follow Queensland time. During the period 2018-2019, Coolangatta airport had 6.4 million passengers.
7- Cairns airport
We are some distance from the high numbers of the top ranking airports here, with just 4.8 million passengers passing through this airport in 2018-2019. This airport takes us back to Queensland again, but this time in the north, 7 kilometres from the city of Cairns, and it has 10 direct flights to international destinations and 35 domestic flights. We should point out that the airport was bought by the government during the Second World War to guarantee its availability to the Royal Australian Air Force, and was then sold to a private consortium in 2008.
8- Hobart airport
In the period 2018-2019, so before the pandemic, 2.7 million passengers arrived in Hobart airport. Here we are no longer on the Australian continent, but on the island state of Tasmania: the airport serves the state capital, Hobart, and is located 17 kilometres from the city. The airport has mainly domestic flights, with only one international destination, to Auckland in New Zealand, with two or three flights there a week.
9- Canberra airport
The airport serving the Australian capital, Canberra, is situated in ninth place in the rankings of the busiest airports in Australia. In 2018-2019, Canberra airport registered 3.2 million passengers (it is only since the pandemic that Hobart airport has overtaken Canberra in the number of passengers). It is possible to fly from Canberra airport to each of the state capitals in Australia, as well as to various cities on the east coast. There are also international flights to Singapore and Wellington; flights to other international destinations usually entail a stopover in Sydney.
10– Townsville airport
Concluding our list of the busiest and most frequented airports in Australia is Townsville airport, with 1.6 million passengers in the period 2018-2019. It is situated in Queensland, north of Cairns airport that we described earlier.