Virgin Australia scraps regional routes across NSW, VIC, QLD, NT

Virgin Australia is withdrawing from seven domestic destinations covering eight regional routes, while also exiting Tonga.

By Chris Chamberlin , September 9 2020
Virgin Australia scraps regional routes across NSW, VIC, QLD, NT

Virgin Australia is axing flights to seven domestic destinations – and withdrawing from another Pacific Island country – as the airline’s new owner moves to right-size Virgin’s network, rebuild its financial position and transition to an all-Boeing 737 fleet.

Flights to Ayers Rock (Uluru), Hervey Bay and Tamworth, plus the Sydney-Port Macquarie route, are all now culled, as are flights to Albury, Cloncurry and Mildura.

The Brisbane-Port Macquarie service operated by Alliance Airlines on behalf of Virgin Australia will remain, although this is currently suspended due to interstate border closures.

Internationally, Tonga will not return to Virgin Australia’s route map even as current travel restrictions ease, with the permanent withdrawal of Sydney-Nuku’alofa flights.

In total, nine Virgin Australia routes will face the chop, as follows:

  • Sydney-Albury
  • Sydney-Ayers Rock (Uluru, Yulara)
  • Sydney-Hervey Bay (QLD Fraser Coast)
  • Sydney-Nuku’alofa (Tonga)
  • Sydney-Port Macquarie
  • Sydney-Tamworth
  • Melbourne-Mildura
  • Brisbane-Cloncurry
  • Mount Isa-Cloncurry

A Virgin Australia spokesperson confirmed the developments with Executive Traveller, explaining that “with the changes to simplifying our fleet and ongoing subdued customer demand, we have been required to make some adjustments to our network.”

“We remain committed to regional Australia and we plan to continue to fly to 20 regional destinations in Australia. We will continue to review our network as travel restrictions ease and demand returns.”

Speaking at this month's CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit prior to today's news, Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah hinted that “I do expect we will lose market share because there are routes that weren’t making any money.”

The nine routes being dropped from Virgin Australia's network.
The nine routes being dropped from Virgin Australia's network.

Although Virgin Australia is not currently operating flights to or from these destinations, passengers holding existing bookings will be contacted to discuss their options.

Travellers who booked their journey via a travel agent, however, will need to speak with their agent, rather than the airline.

The news follows Virgin Australia's earlier withdrawal from Auckland-Nuku’alofa flights as well as its exit from the Cook Islands with the Auckland-Rarotonga route similarly cut earlier this year.

Virgin Australia's regional lounges in Alice Springs and Perth (Terminal 2) have also closed permanently, although Perth-based travellers can still access the airline's flagship lounge in Terminal 1, even if departing from Terminal 2.

Read more: Virgin shutters lounges in Perth, Alice Springs, Wellington

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

watch airfares SYD/ABX go through the roof, even with Rex & Qantas still plying the route.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 73

ACCC should keep watch to make sure fares don't skyrocket on regional markets. Regional Australia struggling enough without needing to pay $1000+ to get to their nearest capital city

KW72

what are ACCC going to do ? They are "toothless".

internationally, surely Newcastle/Auckland & Brisbane/Dunedin are very thin routes, that if at all, should only be flown in peak school/uni holiday periods.

26 Aug 2019

Total posts 1

BNE-DUD was thin but wasn't as thin as you would expect it to be. Dunedin council also partially subsides the flight if I remember correctly.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2014

Total posts 34

And same for NTL-AKL which I believe is subsidized by Newcastle city council

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 194

Never knew those routes even existed. Since when are there international services out of Newcastle and Dunedin?

AKL/NTL/AKL was 1st flown nonstop by Freedom IIRC in mid 1990s. Freedom (air nz low cost) was set up in response to Kiwi & to stuff them up which it did.

Freedom pulled out in around 2003. Charters using Royal Tongan B752 were proposed in 2004, but little support from NTL council so plan canned.

Virgin restarted year or 2 ago, with seasonal service Dec-Jan from memory.

Similar Dunedin to Australia was flown by Kiwi & Freedom IIRC. They had nonstops to BNE, SYD & MEL.

At one stage it was a cheap way to get to Queenstown about 3 hours drive away. Much closer than CHC & cheap rental cars.

Timing was am ex BNE, which means you could arrive just prior to dark in winter & easy to get home, then they changed it to a midnight arrival & aircraft parked at DUD for 8 hours or so.

Freedom then Air NZ, then only Virgin flew route, 3 to 4 times a week.

Lmc
Lmc

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Nov 2018

Total posts 72

Same as Mildura, its not uncommon for $8-900 return fares. 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 748

Some of these are hardly surprising given they were serviced by the now withdrawn ATR fleet.

virgin in the past gave think routes to Alliance to operate.

Look at Albury.

Jetgo used to fly Brisbane/Albury nonstop daily using 36-44 seat jets. Obviously this was wrong aircraft, but surely Alliance could operate a F70(80 seats) or F100(100 seats)

BNE/ABX/SYD/ABX/BNE some days a week & perhaps seasonally.

Boeing 737-300s can just get in & out of ABX, possibly with some weight restrictions, due to terrain. Nauru Airlines have quite a few 737-300s. Think one sits at BNE all week, doing stuff all, waiting for adhoc domestic or international charters.

(FYI Nauru airlines have Australian registered aircraft & an an Australian AOC, IIRC)

Think Alliance still also have some F50s active, doing FIFO out of ADL. They are probably no older than some of Rex's Saab 340s & with 50 seats rather than 34, might be cheaper to operate per aircraft or per seat & some have MTOW under 20 tonnes so no security required.

Mildura & other cut domestic routes could also possibly support less frequent services by Alliance on behalf of Virgin.

The article implys that certain international routes that can be operated nonstop by B738s will operate sooner rather than later.

Fiji/NZ etc.

With over 20 flights a week to Fiji previously & many to AKL & ZQN, surely these could operate on a less frequent basis & make money ?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 748

If the routes are not profitable, they will be cut.  This is not the environment where marginal or loss making routes can be tolerated.  

Alliance would never be an option for VA out of MEL given Alliance has no base in MEL.  

Doesn't Alliance have a base at Essendon ?

Thinking about SYD/ABX. It's almost exactly twice as far as SYD/CBR & qantas used to fly 737s SYD/CBR.

So why could Virgin put a 737-700 on SYD/ABX twice a day Mon to Fri in peak hour & maybe once a day on weekends ?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 328

I have it from a highly reliable source that local demand for MQL-MEL flights is quite strong, with many actually flying MQL-MEL-SYD.  That traffic was being serviced by QF/VA to MEL and Rex to SYD.  It's otherwise a 7-8 hour drive, and there are no train services from Mildura, only a bus to Swan Hill then train to Bendigo-Melbourne.  Virgin has made a mistake.  I understand QF was flying the sector 3-4 times/day in a turboprop.  

It's a sector that doesn't need to be serving meals or tea/coffee, just water (still or sparkling, plain or flavoured).  I'll bet a slab that Virgin re-activates this service within 6 months (otherwise Qantas will be creaming it).  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 9

From memory QF announced MQL-SYD direct recently. I would certainly use that!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 328

A lot of the MQL-MEL traffic then connects to MEL-SYD, MEL-OOL, MEL-BNE, MEL-MCY and MEL-CNS.  I've never understood why VA didn't run a MEL-MQL-SYD service (and return trifecta) twice daily, even if only Mon, Wed and Fri.  

But, then, pre-Bain, the intellect up there in VAH HQ was never that smart (too many 'friends of a friend' got hired (poor HR).   Never mind, QF will do it, just a pity it'll be a crappy turbo-prop and at $800/sector fares.  

speaking to a large SYDNEY travel wholesaler yesterday, that have booked a dozen or so overseas trips with (got straight through on the phone) & asked why they never sold Virgin. He said Virgin were too hard to deal with, but deals with qantas. So he was saying virgin were harder to deal with qantas ? Didn't know that was possible.

24 Apr 2013

Total posts 18

Should have built a better train network. If a person could get on train at 10 pm in Sydney and get off at 7 am, and get a shower and hire car. i would ditch going by plane. I would want to have not sleepers like we have now but the sleeping cars they have in Sweden, china and many other places now. I went on the xpt last year, it needs upgrading but 11 hours is too slow and we need 9 hours. The people who run the rail and a lot else here can't see how easy it would be to get a lot of people onboard a train.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 43

This is just the start, I think underperforming regional routes and those serviced by ATRs are obviously the 'low-hanging fruit' and I think we'll next see a number of B737 destinations dropped, as well as schedules which reduce the number of flights on some routes.

Hi Sparksy, I recall Ayers Rock (Uluru) was a Boeing 737 destination for VA: or at least it was when I flew there last.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jun 2020

Total posts 4

Virgin have cancelled my Hamilton island flights in October I'd say due to princess Anna. Before Virgin in alot of these routes were not worth it for instance Albury was so much cheaper to drive than fly even with Rex. However if not much demand i can understand

QFP

22 Jan 2013

Total posts 57

Any news on a return to CBR? Flights in their system from 1st Nov, but ATR equipment, so must be old schedule. The current fares are killing us, second carrier required! 

Rxm
Rxm

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 46

Airfares will be set by the market. If qantas or Rex are taking in huge profits then there is nothing stopping virgin coming back on the route. Lately virgin has just been intent on chopping routes on commercial grounds showing no real loyalty to regional centres but this is commercial reality. 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 748

Regional routes are a two-way street.   Short of subsidies, you can't expect airlines to continue to service uneconomic routes.  It is very much use it or lose it. 

10 Dec 2018

Total posts 2

I am surprised by the cancellation of Melb - Mildura.  I live in Sydney, however, flew that route four or five times per year for work.  The Melb-Mildura flight (which was a 737) was almost always full and my understanding is that it wasn't a subsidised route. Even business was full on a couple of flights.  I agree this will be a blow for the regions affected.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 May 2019

Total posts 19

That seems pretty modest. I'm frankly pretty surprised that anyone does those particular pairings...

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 328

Am in TOTAL agreement with you Tetly, the MEL-MQL sector was always reasonably close to full when I've used it.  I suspect the decision here had to be based on other factors, because the Sunraysia economy is, shall we just say .... a 'cash crop' economy and regardless of elsewhere in AUS, it has NEVER EVER felt the effects of a recession (need I say more?).  Why, even Skroo Turner has a weekender high atop the Murray River, estimated to have cost him north of $5-Gorillas.

If anything, it's one regional centre that could quite comfortably support both MEL-MQL and SYD-MQL services (or even a MEL-MQL-SYD trifecta, reversing later in the day).  

MQL/MEL is same distance of SYD/ABX

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 88

Although Virgin Australia is not currently operating flights to or from these destinations, passengers holding existing bookings will be contacted to discuss their options.”

What options can there be? Don’t think they are offering cash refunds are they? It’s just flight credits only as far as I can tell but i suspect they don’t want to scare people from buying tickets to other regional centres while they may plan their next round of cuts, potentially pocketing further cash from not going to be fulfilled. The only certainty as far as a can tell is capital cities flights but only peak hour flights will be secured


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