Virgin Australia says it will transfer its nonstop service between Brisbane and Port Moresby to Alliance Airlines in order to free up a Boeing 737-800 for its trans-Tasman network.
From February 25 2019, Alliance Airlines will fly the Brisbane-Port Moresby route five times a week with Fokker 100 equipment under a wet lease agreement with Virgin Australia, which will add its VA airline code on the service.
The schedule is similar to what Virgin Australia currently offers on the route.
“Virgin Australia is committed to the Papua New Guinea market and will continue to offer five return services per week, as operated by Alliance Airlines,” the airline said in a statement.
“This will support Virgin Australia’s continued focus on improving our network and fleet efficiency by allocating additional Boeing 737 resources to Virgin Australia’s trans-Tasman operations.”
Alliance Airlines’ Fokker 100s have 100 seats pitched at 33 inches in a single-class configuration, according to its website.
By contrast, Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800s have 168 seats in economy class and eight in business class for a total of 176.
Virgin Australia has expanded its operations between Australia and New Zealand since October 2018, when its seven-year alliance with Air New Zealand on the trans-Tasman market ended.
It started new routes such as Newcastle-Auckland, added frequencies on its existing trans-Tasman routes and boosted its on-board product offering with a meal and checked baggage included in every ticket.
Today we’ve announced direct flights between Newcastle and Auckland, making Virgin Australia the first airline to operate Trans-Tasman flights from Newcastle Airport in 16 years. Flights will operate from 22 November 2018 to 17 February 2019. https://t.co/uveus1LLpW pic.twitter.com/TdyUKh0Wds
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) July 18, 2018
Virgin Australia is one of three airlines offering nonstop flights between Australia and Papua New Guinea alongside Qantas (Brisbane-Port Moresby) and Air Niugini, which serves Brisbane, Cairns and Sydney from its Port Moresby hub.
Air Niugini also previously flew from Port Moresby to Townsville. However, it ended those flights in October 2018.
The Australia-Papua New Guinea market has been a challenging one in terms of passenger numbers.
Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) showed Virgin Australia had an average load factor of 35.2 per cent on its flights from Port Moresby to Brisbane for the 12 months to June 30 2018, with the figure 36.3 per cent for the Brisbane-Port Moresby leg.
Qantas’s load factor on the route over the same period was 65 per cent inbound and 57.1 per cent outbound.
Meanwhile, Air Niugini’s services to Australia recorded load factors of 52.8 per cent, while its flights out of Australia were 52.6 per cent full.
Air Niugini and Qantas had previously codeshared on each other’s flights on the Brisbane and Sydney to Port Moresby routes.
However, in 2018 Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC) knocked back Qantas’s application to continue the codesharing arrangements as it would not be of benefit to the public.
Virgin Australia had previously told the IASC the proposed codeshare was the “single most significant barrier to entry on the PNG route”.
Port Moresby the latest route for Alliance’s wet-lease flying for Virgin Australia
The flights to Port Moresby represent an expansion of Alliance Airlines’ wet-lease flying on behalf of Virgin Australia.
In July 2017, Alliance Airlines started regular public transport (RPT) services from Brisbane to regional ports Bundaberg, Gladstone and Port Macquarie that are sold as Virgin Australia codeshare services.
The flights operate out of the Virgin Australia terminal at Brisbane Airport, with passengers checking in at the Virgin Australia counters. Web and mobile checkin are offered on all Alliance Airlines flights.
Although operated by Alliance Airlines, effectively all ticket sales for the flights come through Virgin Australia website and global distribution systems (GDS).