Virgin Australia sent an ATR 72 to Melbourne and Launceston over the weekend for staff training and route familiarisation flights, potentially laying the groundwork to expand its ATR turboprop regional operations beyond NSW and Queensland.
Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed Virgin ATR 72-500 VH-FVM flew from Brisbane to Melbourne on Saturday, August 30, and spent two nights at Tullamarine before heading to Launceston on Monday, September 1. The aircraft then spent a little over five hours on the ground at Launceston before heading back to Brisbane.
A Virgin spokesman said on Wednesday the aircraft was flown to the two cities for route familiarisation and training purposes. However, he stressed no decision had been made on deploying part of the airline’s 13-strong fleet of ATRs to Victoria or Tasmania.
Rather, the training of airport staff at Melbourne and Launceston was designed to give the airline the flexibility to quickly bring the ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 turboprops onto new routes should conditions warrant.
Virgin currently operated only jet aircraft – Boeing 737s, Airbus A330-200s and Embraer E190 aircraft – at Melbourne Airport.
Its ATR turboprops fly from Sydney and Brisbane to regional centres in Queensland and NSW, as well as between Sydney and Canberra.
Getting turboprops to Melbourne would allow Virgin to shift some services from 98-seat E190s to 68-seat ATRs, or replace one 176-seat Boeing 737 with two ATR services, depending on demand and frequency requirements.
Meanwhile, The Northern Daily Leader newspaper has reported that Virgin representatives would meet with the Narrabri Shire Council and business leaders in the area next week about starting regular public transport flights to the northern NSW town.
To date, Virgin has only operated only charter services to Narrabri – which lost regular public transport air services to Sydney after Vincent Aviation collapsed in May – for mining companies.
“The Narrabri shire has the capacity to support one of the large players and Virgin has shown distinct interest,” Narrabri Shire Council mayor Conrad Bolton told the newspaper.
“We’ve given them a lot of information already, but there’s nothing better than face-to-face meetings to get a more intimate knowledge on the community’s requirements.”