Virgin Australia looks set to open a couple of new routes for its fleet of ATR turboprop aircraft out of Melbourne.
According to schedules from Virgin’s website, the airline will start Melbourne-Canberra flights with ATR 72-600s on November 10, while turboprops will begin operating between Melbourne and Launceston from November 16.
The move to replace some jet-operated services from Melbourne with turboprops was flagged in September, when Virgin sent an ATR 72-600 to Tullamarine and Launceston for what the airline said at the time was staff training and route familiarisation flights.
A Melbourne-Canberra flight was blocked at either 85 or 80 minutes with the ATR, some 15 minutes longer than the 65- or 70-minute duration for Boeing 737-800 services.
Melbourne-Launceston was blocked at 85 minutes for the ATR service, 15 or 20 minutes longer than jet-operated flights.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson confirmed the airline would operate a “selection of flights” from Melbourne to Launceston and Melbourne to Canberra.
“The introduction of this aircraft enables Virgin Australia to maintain its frequency on these routes while ensuring fares remain competitive,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Currently, Virgin operated 12 ATR aircraft in its fleet, the spokesperson said. They fly from Sydney and Brisbane to regional centres in Queensland and NSW, as well as between Sydney and Canberra.
The Virgin spokesperson said the airline did not intend to open an ATR base in Melbourne at this time.
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.
Qantas currently operates Bombardier Q400 turboprops, in addition to jet services, between Canberra and Melbourne. It has also deployed turboprops on the Canberra-Adelaide (125 minutes) and Canberra-Brisbane (125 minutes) route.