TAMWORTH will have a second Sydney airline service from May, with the news on Thursday that Virgin will join QantasLink on the route.
Virgin has announced it will start flying from May 25, with one return flight between Sydney and Tamworth on a turboprop ATR 72 68-seater aircraft every day except Saturdays.
It brings competition to the route for the first time since 2001, and Tamworth Regional Council has admitted it had been working on the new player for at least three years.
Mayor Col Murray said Tamworth provided the right commercial environmental for ventures like Virgin Australian to establish themselves here.
“We are so happy about this,” Cr Murray said.
“It may have been hard to get you here, but it’s going to be bloody hard to get you to go.”
Virgin Australia chief executive officer John Borghetti said he had announced one flight but hoped to announce more, depending on demand.
“It’s always about competition,” Mr Borghetti said.
“After 14 long years since Ansett stopped flying to Tamworth, on May 25 competition will be back in Tamworth.
“We made our salt in regional Australia. Tamworth is very important because (it) is a strategic hub for this region.”
Mr Borghetti said the move was not about poaching customers from QantasLink, but about opening up the market and bringing more customers for both.
He said air traffic would come from the business, tourism and family sectors.
“Family links in regional Australia are critical,” Mr Borghetti said.
It is understood there were many factors that determined Virgin’s departure times: 1.55pm from Sydney and 3.30pm from Tamworth.
The airline found that this time often suited people travelling for leisure or to visit family and friends, and not all corporate travellers had morning meetings, but could be staying overnight.
The flights should also connect well with some of Virgin Australia’s overseas markets, including New Zealand.
Mr Borghetti said it had taken Virgin so long to get to Tamworth because it had been busy buying SkyWest and establishing a presence in other markets.
“You can’t do everything at once,” he said. “Now that we are here, the question is how quickly can we grow. It depends on how much support we get. We will be competitive in price and service.”
Mr Borghetti said Tamworth was a market the company had needed to think very hard about, because it had been serviced by a good airline that had a stronghold.
“We are going up against Goliath and we’re David in this,” he said.
“We are taking on a very efficient and very capable good airline, but we think we’re up to it.”
QantasLink chief executive John Gissing said his company welcomed the competition.
“We’ve always said that Tamworth is a fantastic regional city and I’m pleased to see that another airline has finally seen the importance of Tamworth – like we have for the past 65 years,” he said.
“We also offer so much more than just a seat on a plane, including seamless connections to our extensive domestic and international network, including our Emirates partnership; Qantas frequent flyer points; lounge access at both Sydney and Tamworth airports, in-flight meals and snacks for every customer; and 32kg of checked baggage.”
For those looking for travel deals, Mr Borghetti said Tamworth would feature in their happy-hour deals from time to time.