The head of Australia's biggest airport has said when he expects international borders to reopen and which destinations people will first start flying to.

And it could be a sooner than expected.

Speaking at the AFR National Infrastructure Summit today, Sydney Airport Chief Executive Officer Geoff Culbert said the transport hub's staff were excited about welcoming the first planeload of passengers on Friday arriving as part of the new Australia-New Zealand air bridge.

"We're expecting 200 passengers on the first flight from New Zealand.

"We haven't welcomed international travellers to Sydney in months that haven't had to come through customs and go straight on to buses to hotel (quarantine)."

Mr Culbert acknowledged the limitations in the trans-Tasman link, chiefly that it is only one way and even passengers from New Zealand would have to quarantine once back home.

However, he said the air bridge was the first part of a "phased approach" to international travel during the coronavirus pandemic and it would provide a vital "proof of concept" for further destinations.

New Zealand aside, Japan could be one of the first destinations to reopen to Australians.
New Zealand aside, Japan could be one of the first destinations to reopen to Australians.

SOONER THAN EXPECTED
New Zealand aside, Mr Culbert nominated Singapore, South Korea and Japan as the next nations that could see the need for mandatory quarantine dropped.

"These are places that have done a good job (during the pandemic) and we have confidence in their health systems."

Mr Culbert also said they were nations where Australia could be confident in "reciprocal processes" to travellers.

However, in contrast to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's gloomy comments in last week's Budget that borders might not open until late 2021, the Sydney Airport chief had a slightly rosier outlook.

Mr Culbert told the summit he believed Australia could be ready to see regular travel to and from Singapore, South Korea and Japan by as early as the "first half of next year".

That timeline relied on a number of factors, including a vaccine. However, Mr Culbert said a vaccine combined with rapid testing and other therapeutic drugs could be enough to allow international travel to reopen to a degree.

RELATED: High-risk countries Australians could be banned from visiting

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert made the start date prediction at the AFR National Infrastructure Summit today. Picture: AAP / MONIQUE HARMER.
Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert made the start date prediction at the AFR National Infrastructure Summit today. Picture: AAP / MONIQUE HARMER.

TALKS ON WITH ASIA AND PACIFIC NATIONS

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Australia was in discussion with the three nations as well as some countries in the South Pacific which coronavirus has barely touched.

"There are countries that have performed well on the health front and Australia and those countries are one of a handful that has had the same level of success," the PM said.

"But we have to go cautiously on this; very, very cautiously. COVID-19 hasn't gone anywhere, it's still there - it's no less aggressive today than it was six months ago. We need to keep the habit of COVID-safe behaviours."

Earlier this month, Singapore said it would allow Australians - excluding Victorians - to holiday and visit the popular city-state.

However, it's unclear how many Aussies will be able to jump at the development considering anyone who wants to leave the country right now needs to be granted a government exemption to travel.

RELATED: Australian travel bubble: Experts on where we can travel next

The travel bubbles could mean quarantine free holidays. Picture: Singapore Airlines
The travel bubbles could mean quarantine free holidays. Picture: Singapore Airlines

Holiday-makers will also have to fork out an extra $3000 for their two week hotel quarantine upon re-entry to Australia.

Sydney Airport's Mr Culbert also said the gradual reopening of interstate borders was increasing demand for travel - but to nowhere near previous levels.

Before South Australia and the Northern Territory opened their borders with New South Wales, the airport was operating at just three per cent capacity.

Sydney Airport is now at seven per cent capacity.

If Queensland does go ahead with relaxing restrictions for all of New South Wales - which may be up in the air due to the recent Sydney outbreak - Mr Culbert said that would see the airport back to 17 per cent full.

Originally published as Overseas travel back sooner than thought



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