Alliance Airlines will begin regular public transport (RPT) flights from Brisbane to Bundaberg, Gladstone, Moranbah and Port Macquarie from July that will be sold as Virgin Australia codeshare services in what is a significant expansion of its operations.
Brisbane-based Alliance is also adding wet-lease flying for Virgin Australia on three more routes – Brisbane to Cloncurry, Mt Isa and Rockhampton – under a separate 12-month arrangement.
Currently, Virgin Australia serves the Bundaberg, Gladstone, Moranbah and Port Macquarie routes from Brisbane with ATR 72-500/600 turboprops. However, Virgin is withdrawing six ATR 72-500s and two 72-600s as part of efforts to simplify the fleet, reduce costs and return the company to profitability.
As a consequence of the reduction of the ATR fleet from 14 to six, Virgin is ending turboprop operations in Queensland.
Alliance said the expanded flying in Queensland followed the signing of a heads of agreement with Virgin.
“The operation of the regional Queensland and wet lease flights will require an additional three operational aircraft that have already been acquire from Austrian Airlines,” Alliance said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) on Thursday.
“In aggregate the additional services announced above will increase the company’s fleet by 11 per cent and total flying activity by up to 45 per cent.”
Also, Alliance has operated flights to a number of regional centres, including to Emerald, of behalf of Virgin under wet-lease arrangements since 2016. The flights to Emerald will continue.
An indicative flight schedule from Alliance shows the Bundaberg, Gladstone, Moranbah and Port Macquarie services would be operated with Fokker 70 regional jets, which have 80 seats in a 2-3 layout with 33in pitch in an all-economy configuration.
By contrast, Virgin’s turboprops have 68 seats.
The closure of Virgin’s ATR base was first communicated to staff in March in a memo from Virgin Australia group executive for airlines John Thomas.
“The consolidation of ATR flying will unfortunately result in the closure of the Brisbane ATR flightcrew base to ensure our crew are positioned in the locations which best support the remaining ATR network,” Thomas said in the memo.
“We recognise that this may be disappointing news for some of you, however this will ultimately help us achieve a sustainable fleet and network mix to meet customer needs and continue to provide further opportunities for our people.
“This decision will allow us to have appropriate resources and schedules for the market and to focus on profitably growing our network elsewhere.”
In his Traffic column in the May edition of Australian Aviation, Gordon Reid reported the six ATR 72-500s to be withdrawn by July are VH-FVH, VH-FVI, VH-FVL, VH-FVM, VH-FVU and VH-FVX.