$5k and climbing: Airfare fears over Virgin exit
Virgin's decision to halt regional flights could create a dangerous monopoly and leave rural residents isolated, locals say.
The embattled airline yesterday announced it would withdraw seven of its regional services for the foreseeable future, including flights connecting Brisbane to Cloncurry, Cloncurry to Mount Isa, and Hervey Bay to Sydney.
Flights connecting Sydney to Uluru, Hervey Bay, Albury, Port Macquarie and Tamworth have also been scrapped, as well the Melbourne to Mildura route.
The Courier-Mail understands Virgin will also cancel its Port Macquarie service, opting instead for a Brisbane to Port Macquarie codeshare partnership with Alliance Airlines.
The cancellations come as part of a rebuilding program after the airline was acquired by Bain Capital and were the product of "ongoing subdued customer demand", a spokesman said.
Without the Virgin flights, Qantas will be the sole airline operating out of Cloncurry and Hervey Bay, igniting fears of astronomical price hikes.
"It was bad enough with a duopoly…" Cloncurry local and regional airfares advocate Hamish Griffin said.
"I've seen airfares between Cloncurry and Townsville for two adults and one child for $4800.
"My concern is that it's just going to get worse."
Mr Griffin said he was concerned it would impact the town's tourism potential and its potential for growth.
"It's hard enough to get people to come and live here anyway … when it's so hard to go down the coast or out to Brisbane to visit anyone," he said.
Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons also feared a price hike.
"Qantas is important to us. but we always want contestability," he said.
The Fraser Coast had ascended to the fifth most popular tourism destination in Queensland "in the past 18 months".
Mr Simons said the cessation of Virgin's Sydney to Hervey Bay route would be a "setback" for the region's growth when border reopened.
"It opened up a market beyond our borders that was valuable for us," he said.
A Virgin spokesman said the company "will continue to review our network as travel restrictions ease and demand returns".
Mr Simons hoped the Fraser Coast route would be a top priority.
"We hope to inspire virgin to come back or other airlines to look at us as a growing market," he said.
Guests with flights booked on any of the cancelled routes will be contacted by Virgin "to advise them of their options".
Originally published as $5k and climbing: Airfare fears over Virgin exit