Flight lifeline needed after Qantas halts service
Armidale Regional Council is calling for State and Federal Government backing to maintain a passenger air service to the Armidale region, following news Qantas Airlines will suspend its flights to the area from April 10th until May 31st.
The decision by Qantas follows similar moves by the other carriers providing regular passenger services to Armidale Regional Airport, as measures to control the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus reduce passenger numbers. REX Airlines has stopped its flights from Sydney from April 6th and Fly Corporate ceased its link to Brisbane from last week. It will leave the Armidale region without any air passenger services for the foreseeable future.
“While we fully understand and respect the tough decisions these carriers must make to protect the future viability of their businesses, it is vital this region is not left without a regular service,” Armidale Regional Council Mayor Simon Murray said. “We’re looking to Federal and State Government for a commitment to underwrite at least a daily air passenger link between Sydney and the Armidale region.”
“People are responsibly heeding government directions to avoid non-essential travel, significantly reducing passenger numbers,” Cr Murray said. “However, a reliable air connection is essential for professional services needed by our community, such as hospital and health services.
He said just one daily flight would be invaluable in protecting the welfare of our community and helping to minimise the impacts the COVID-19 crisis will inevitably have on the region’s economy.
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said that while this news is a bitter blow for our region, it does not come as any surprise with passenger numbers on the route, along with almost all other domestic routes, dropping by more than 70 per cent in the last few weeks as COVID-19 travel restrictions tightened.
“Realistically, under the new restrictions, there is hardly anyone permitted to catch a flight to Sydney,” Mr Marshall said. “I have spoken with Qantas Airways Australia senior management urging them to continue a minimum daily service to Armidale, for essential travel, including medical specialists and staff – who are almost the only people still flying at the moment.”
“Given the current adverse conditions, I told Qantas management that the service did not have to be direct to Sydney, but it would be acceptable to triangulate with Tamworth or Coffs Harbour, or a combination to the two.
“Qantas has advised it was working on a minimum viable service model for its QantasLink network, which includes Armidale and it is currently in discussions with the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, which regulates air travel in Australia, with a view to gaining approval for the new network operating model.”
“Despite the COVID-19 crisis and the tough, but needed, travel restrictions in place, we still need our air link to ensure essential travel can occur. It’s not just the city of Armidale which relies on this air link, it’s the entire region.”