Virgin to cut Esperance flight numbers

Virgin Australia says the Perth to Esperance route continues to sustain "unacceptable losses".

Virgin Australia says the Perth to Esperance route continues to sustain "unacceptable losses".

VIRGIN Australia has sought to reduce its scheduled flights between Perth and Esperance from three to two flights per day on weekdays.

The move came following an announcement on Monday by the airline, saying the Esperance route continued to sustain "unacceptable losses" in a market with reduced fares.

In the last four years, average fares on the route have been reduced by around 20 per cent.

During the same period, passenger numbers rose only by 1.1 per cent.

On Monday, Virgin Australia applied to the WA Department of Transport, seeking to amend its flight schedule on the regulated Perth to Esperance routes to safeguard the long term viability of the service.

The proposed change will also affect the Perth to Albany route and will also impact some triangulated services to Busselton and Ravensthorpe.

Virgin Australia Regional Airlines group executive Merren McArthur said Virgin had participated in local marketing and community initiatives to drive demand for the services.

"Despite our best efforts to stimulate the market through airfare pricing and promotional activity, the Albany and Esperance routes continue to sustain unacceptable losses," he said.

Mr McArthur said the performance was not sustainable.

"We believe these frequency changes are necessary to ensure we can continue to provide air services to the Esperance and Albany communities," he said.

Virgin Australia will now enter into a 21-day consultation period with the Esperance community and the Department of Transport.

In early August, Transport Minister Dean Nalder invited public comment on the state government's position paper for the review of regulated Regular Public Transport (RPT), which examined the regulation of eight intrastate air routes, including the Esperance to Perth service.

Mr Nalder said the review provided an opportunity for the public and industry to help shape the regulatory approach to RPT air routes and charter air services beyond February 2016, when the current regulatory arrangements between the state and three airlines cease.

Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Grant Shipp said through conversations with Virgin as a member of the Community Consultation Group, Monday's announcement did not come as a surprise. 

"Virgin's announcement comes after the recent Department of Transport call for feedback into their review of regulated regular passenger transport air routes," he said.

"This highlights the need for community to have their say, both in this process and the wider review."

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall expressed concern with the ongoing viability of regional aviation services.

"Aviation services for non-mining towns are under strain," he said.

"We are seeing less competition and a reduced number of flights. Local towns are vulnerable to higher airfares and reduced travel options."

Mr Hall said the state government would need to ensure that minimum air services were guaranteed for regional towns such as Esperance.

"The government should look at proper regulation and subsidies to ensure minimum services are maintained," he said.

Subject to community consultation and feedback, the proposed schedule would commence from Monday, November 11.

Virgin Australia has serviced the route since May last year after acquiring Skywest.

On average, the number of passengers flying the Perth to Esperance route has remained stable at around 48,000 per year, Virgin said.

Community members who wish to make their views known by September 1 can contact the Shire of Esperance (via email at shire@esperance.wa.gov.au) or the Shire of Ravensthorpe (via email shire@ravensthorpe.wa.gov.au).

What do you think about the proposed changes? Send a letter to the editor to lauren.vardy@fairfaxmedia.com.au 

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