QantasLink will shed four Bombardier Q300 turboprop aircraft, close down its Perth Q400 pilot base and make its remaining fleet work harder in a bid to cut costs.
While the changes were expected to impact staff, a Qantas spokesman said job losses were not expected as the airline would “manage the changes through leave burn, leave without pay and natural attrition”.
The moves followed a review of the regional carrier’s network and operations and were part of Qantas’s three-year, $2 billion cost reduction program.
“We have announced changes to our network which will increase efficiency and better match capacity with demand,” QantasLink chief executive John Gissing said in a statement on Tuesday.
“These changes are part of our plan to ensure QantasLink remains Australia’s leading regional carrier. We know that QantasLink is more than just an airline in many regional communities and these changes will ensure we have a strong foundation for the future.”
QantasLink planned to increase utilisation rates on its turboprop fleet to achieve “almost the same amount of flying” with four fewer aircraft through “being smarter with our operations”.
The Australian reported QantasLink was aiming for a three per cent cut in unit costs and a five per cent increase in aircraft utilisation.
Markets such as Sydney to Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga would experience an increase in capacity as 74-seat Q400s replaced 50-seat Q300s currently on these routes.
Other routes to receive a capacity boost when the new schedule comes online on March 29 2015 include: Cairns to Hamilton Island, Horn Island, Townsville and Weipa, Townsville to Mt Isa, Mackay, Brisbane to Emerald and Newcastle, and between Mackay and Rockhampton.
The upgauge of the Cairns routes would also result in the closure of QantasLink’s Q300 pilot base in the city, QantasLink said.
The airline was also establishing a Q300 base in Adelaide, with a new route expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Regional operators have been impacted as a number of major mining projects transition from a construction phase to a production phase.
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) chief executive Merren McArthur said the regional market, much like the overall domestic market, was suffering from soft demand.
“We are just really taking it easy at the moment,” McArthur told delegates at the Australian Airports Association national conference on the Gold Coast on Tuesday.
“We have got a plan to grow our fleet, but are just waiting for demand to catch up with supply.”
VARA operates Virgin-branded ATR turboprop aircraft along Australia’s east coast to regional centres in NSW and Queensland, as well as to Canberra, plus charter and fly-in/fly-out operations.