Emerald leaders fear price hikes amid Virgin collapse
CENTRAL Highlands community leaders fear the region’s tourism will plummet and residents would suffer if only one airline flew into Emerald Airport.
Virgin Australia today confirmed it has gone into voluntary administration, handing the airline over to insolvency experts at Deloitte to restructure the business.
Member for Gregory Lachlan Millar said if Alliance Airlines, which operated as a codeshare with Virgin Australia, decided to pull their flights from Emerald, the airline monopoly would increase prices.
“Higher prices will become a reality if we have only one airline flying into Emerald,” he said.
“It will be harder to get to Emerald and harder to get out of Emerald.
“We’re going to see higher fares and less flights.”
Mr Millar said it would be tougher for people who flew regularly for work or medical reasons.
“It will also make it harder to travel for medical treatment or family emergencies,” he said.
“We already have a huge gap in health outcomes in regional Queensland. Making medical travel harder will only increase this.”
Without Emerald Airport, the closest airports are located at Rockhampton or Longreach, both of which are more than a two-hour drive.
Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes said the smart thing to do, if there were to be airline monopoly, would be for Qantas to keep reasonable prices for a successful business approach.
“If you want to build your business it has to be practical,” he said.
“You cannot keep peaking the prices out or you won’t grow your market.
“The sensible approach would be to maintain an affordable option.
“It’s good for customers and good for the airline.”
The number of commercial flights to and from Emerald has significantly dropped since the onset of coronavirus, although the number of charter flights has dramatically increased.
“The Emerald to Brisbane route is probably still one of the prolific travelled routes in the nation,” Mr Hayes said.
“We’ve gone from 40-50 (commercial flights) a week through Qantas and Virgin’s Alliance, a couple of months ago.
“Now we have three to five a week by Qantas and 30-32 chartered flights coming into the airport.
“Our commercial flights have been replaced by largely industry-based charter flights flying those workers.”
He said the whole business system had changed and more people were travelling through Emerald Airport than other larger airports.
Mr Hayes said solid, reliable and frequent flights would also be a key to increasing the regions tourism market when coronavirus restrictions ceased.
“That’s the sort of things we need to grow the market around here,” he said.
“They need a hub to travel to and if prices rise then they are less likely to travel here.”
In a statement released this morning, Virgin said it had appointed Deloitte partners Vaughan Strawbridge, John Greig, Sal Algeri and Richard Hughes as joint administrators.
The decision comes as the business has continued to seek financial assistance from a number of parties, including state and federal governments, to help it through the unprecedented crisis.
Emerald Chamber of Commerce president Victor Cominos said it wasn’t the first time Emerald had fought for two airlines.
“It saddens us to see we’re back to one service,” he said.
“The Emerald Chamber of Commerce was responsible for introducing a second airline in 1979.
“We fought hard to get services into the place.
“We lobbied and campaigned and did whatever possible to get the two services up and running.
“We’re very concerned the demise of Virgin is going to lead to higher airfares and the introduction of substandard services.”
He said the group would fight again to ensure airline prices to and from Emerald stayed at the “right price”.
Virgin Australia Group Chief Executive Officer Paul Scurrah said he hoped the business made it out the other side.
“Australia needs a second airline and we are determined to keep flying,” he said.
“Virgin Australia will play a vital role in getting the Australian economy back on its feet after the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring the country has access to competitive and high-quality air travel.”