The government has finalised a deal with Qantas and Virgin to underwrite a minimum domestic network, to the value of $165 million.
The services will cover all capital cities and begin to roll out immediately before being reviewed in eight weeks’ time.
It means the number of passenger flights operated by the Qantas Group will increase from 105 to 164 per week; while Virgin will shift from running only Sydney-Melbourne services to now flying 64 return services.
The latter has already confirmed it is now in a position to rehire some of its stood-down employees, which Australian Aviation understands could number 200.
The bailout, first outlined on the weekend, comes after increasing reports emerged of Australians arriving back in the country, completing their 14-day hotel isolation, but then struggling to find flights across states to return home.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced the deal on Thursday evening and confirmed it would also extend to major regional centres such as Alice Springs, Dubbo and Tamworth.
“We are ensuring secure and affordable access for passengers who need to travel, including our essential workers such as frontline medical personnel and Defence personnel, as well as supporting the movement of essential freight such as critical medicine and personal protective equipment,” McCormack said.
The services will begin from Friday, 17 April and be “fully operational” by Monday, 20 April. In particular, the network will focus on regional towns that are more than two hours’ drive from key transport hubs.
The intervention will provide a small lifeline to Virgin, which announced before the Easter weekend that it was suspending all domestic services, except one return flight between Sydney and Melbourne.
Previously, the airline had reduced domestic capacity by 90 per cent, flying to just 19 destinations, and cancelled all international journeys due to the coronavirus crisis.
The new domestic bailout is in addition to the already announced $715 million in support for airlines in the form of waived fees and levies plus another $298 million for regional carriers.
While both airlines have suspended their normal international network, they are still committed to flying a handful of repatriation flights, part-funded by the government, from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland.
The services will run during April and include freight capacity for imports and exports.
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