Virgin Australia group executive for airlines John Thomas says changes to Sydney Airport’s hourly movement cap to help grow regional routes would allow the airline to offer more flights to smaller cities and towns in NSW.
Currently, Sydney Airport is limited to 80 aircraft movements per hour between 6am and 11pm, with some peak-time slots dedicated to NSW regional flights under legislation.
Thomas says Sydney Airport is more than capable of accommodating more flights per hour and reiterated Virgin Australia’s position advocating an increase in the hourly cap.
“We’ve obviously publicly stated that we would like the cap to go from 80 to 90 and we’d be fine if those additional 10 slots went to turboprop only,” Thomas told Australian Aviation in an interview on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Cancun, Mexico on Sunday.
“I think during the Olympics it was operating up to 120 an hour so the airport clearly has the capacity to do it.”
In April, Virgin announced it was reducing its ATR 72-500/600 fleet from 14 aircraft to just six and closing its Brisbane turboprop base as part of a wider fleet simplification program to reduce costs, improve operational efficiencies and support a return to profitability.
That would leave Virgin’s ATR fleet to be used on intrastate routes from Sydney, as well as on Sydney-Canberra and Melbourne-Canberra services.
Thomas said a higher movement cap at Sydney could support a bigger Virgin turboprop operation out of Mascot.
“We’re stuck at this 80 number at the moment,” Thomas said.
“If we could get the additional 10, and as I say in terms of using the turboprops, that would certainly allow us to expand the turboprop operations there.”
Another artificial constraint on Mascot is the way the cap is calculated in 15-minute blocks, which can prove restrictive in times of bad weather or when there are disruptions to normal operations.
Thomas described the 15-minute block as “crazy” and very inefficient.
“I went out about six weeks ago to Adelaide and I was in the jump seat and as we were taking off the runway I heard the controller say to a Cathay 777 that had just got to the end of the taxiway ‘you’re going to have to wait for three minutes because we don’t have any more slots’,” Thomas said.
“That’s an embarrassment to Australia. I mean here we are trying to promote tourism. That Captain probably went on the PA and said this is crazy we have got to wait here for three or four minutes because there are no slots available.”