Regional airline Skywest will fly short-range routes for Virgin Blue, which has been expanding its international market partnerships at a rate of knots.
Arriving in mid-2011, up to 18 leased turboprop aircraft will be branded in Virgin Blue colours. Skywest will operate the as-yet-unspecified turboprops on mainly fly-in, fly-out routes delivering mining staff to remote locations, most likely from its home base in Perth.
This latest agreement signals Virgin Blue's interest in taking a cut of the mining sector's business away from Qantas, its Qantaslink subsidiary and its new acquisition Network Aviation.
"This alliance will significantly benefit regional Australia as well as being a win-win for Skywest and Virgin Blue," said Virgin Blue chief executive John Borghetti.
While Skywest has been a member of Virgin Blue's Velocity rewards programme since 2007, this new tie-up will increase the number of flights and routes across both airlines' routes. Skywest also plans to use further aircraft to expand its own branded operations.
As Australian Business Traveller reported a few weeks ago, Virgin Blue won approval from the competition regulator to form a pricing and scheduling alliance with Etihad. That move won the Australian carrier routes to the Middle East and Europe, which will now be able to connect to these smaller destinations.
Shortly afterwards, we reported that Virgin Blue was cleared by the NZ government to ally with Air New Zealand -- opening up connections across the Tasman as well.