Perth Airport's recovery from the fallout of COVID could take up to 18 months, chief executive Kevin Brown told a Business News event this morning.
The airport recorded a $64.5 million loss in the financial year ending June 2021, the first loss in the company's history.
Speaking at a Business News Success & Leadership breakfast, Mr Brown said the airport recorded a modest profit in FY22 but would not be back to where it was pre-COVID.
He said it would take another 12 to 18 months for the airport to be where it was in 2019.
"The trends are much improved. If we go back to the depths of COVID, we lost 98 per cent of our international travel," Mr Brown told the forum.
"It was quite an unusual sight, walking through the international terminal and all I could hear was my footsteps echoing.
"We are probably 11 per cent off the pre-COVID passenger numbers but that's just the peak of the holidays.
"The underlying trend at the moment is we're probably about 17 per cent behind our pre-COVID traffic."
Mr Brown said the pandemic had caused the business a loss of about three to four years' worth of growth and opportunities.
"We cannot shut the airport, there's a community depending on it whether it's the mining sector, which is important not just for the state but the national economy, to allowing Western Australians to come home, to allow the medical PPE and vaccinations to come in through the cargo flights," he said.
"By having that traffic there, it allowed us to retain a lot of our team and the other operators around the airport."
"The intrastate traffic... is up 130 per cent the same period pre-COVID."
The Tourism WA board member moved to Perth six years ago and has been in the aviation industry for about 20 years.
"There's been nothing in my career that's effectively been a crisis that has run for a number of years," Mr Brown said.
Perth Airport also grappled through redundancies during the pandemic and the loss of chair Nev Power in February.
"My understanding is the preferred candidate to be the next chair is nearly concluded," Mr Brown said.
"To be honest, even during COVID when Nev was the chair and he was involved in the national COVID response committee, Lyndon (Rowe) was effectively the acting chair at that time."
Employers are now actively recruiting for more than 500 jobs across Perth Airport.
Looking into the future
A number of direct flight routes from Perth to European cities have been initiated in recent years.
The state government has also been looking into strengthening its partnership with India with Tourism Minister Roger Cook working on a direct flight route from Perth to a major Indian city.
“India is still our largest international student numbers … that hasn’t changed since COVID,” Mr Brown said.
“The countries we’re targeting at the moment, India’s a no brainer for me.
“We share the Indian Ocean, it’s a major haul flight. It’s the same flight time from India to London as it is to Perth.”
An entry to the United States via Hawaii was also flagged by Mr Brown, who said it could be a preferred entrypoint compared to Los Angeles airport.
"Something that is really important to me to raise, quite rightly so, is the profile of Indigenous culture and our 60,000-year heritage of this great state," he said.
"As you walk from the terminal to the airport or back, there’s local storytelling to tell you about the heritage of the area… and where you walk, it goes with you.
"A welcome to country in our international arrivals and using holographic imagery so it’s there 24/7.
"We know many come to Australia with an expectation and desire to learn more about the culture but they leave not having that experience fulfilled.
"So we’re trying to generate that awareness from the moment you literally land at the airport, have that proper welcome and storytelling."
Mr Brown said the $1.86 billion Metronet Forrestfield-Airport link would also contribute to the growth of international visitors.