WITH more than one million travellers flying with Virgin to and from Port Macquarie since 2008, maintaining flight options on the Sydney and Brisbane routes is critical for the region's economic growth.
Wednesday's announcement that Virgin Australia will withdraw its service from Port Macquarie "for the foreseeable future" follows a statement by the airline last month that it was reviewing a number of NSW regional routes previously serviced by its ATR aircraft. This included included Port Macquarie.
Virgin Australia's decision aims to set a minimal expected domestic schedule across its entire network until demand increases. The Port Macquarie route was already under review as it was "under-performing".
Council director, Rebecca Olsen said council acknowledges that these are unprecedented times for airlines managing the impacts and reduced demand associated with COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures.
"Our community has enjoyed a strong relationship with Virgin Australia since the airline first commenced operations at Port Macquarie in February 2008," Ms Olsen said.
"During this time, over one million passengers have travelled either to or from Port Macquarie with Virgin Australia or its partner airlines."
Council upgraded the airport runway and associated infrastructure in 2012-13 to cater for up to Boeing 737 aircraft to be operated by Virgin Australia across its domestic and regional network.
Virgin Australia said their larger aircraft, the Boeing 737, is not commercially viable to operate this regional service with the expected demand.
The Boeing 737 is the only aircraft now operating in its streamlined fleet and cannot land at Port Macquarie, a Virgin spokesperson said.
"Our Sydney and Brisbane routes remain critical to the growth, economic development and tourism potential of our region," Ms Olsen said.
Alliance Airlines confirmed that while Brisbane services remain suspended due to the NSW-QLD border restrictions, it remained committed to recommence services on the route in the future.
Virgin Australia said it has had a code sharing agreement with Alliance in the past and this could be an option for the Port Macquarie route into the future.
Virgin confirmed this arrangement will be applied for the Port Macquarie to Brisbane route when the Alliance service resumes.
QantasLink is currently operating direct flights between Port Macquarie and Sydney with the schedule subject to passenger demand.
Council continues to monitor COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures, and will work with existing and potential new airlines to re-establish a range of airline services in the future to meet demand for the community.
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