Virgin won't cut regional flights

VIRGIN Australia has pledged not to cut air services to northern New South Wales in spite of congestion woes at Sydney Airport.

Regional areas could be the first to suffer as a result of NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's decision not to plan for a second airport in Sydney, but a Virgin spokeswoman said services to Coffs Harbour and Ballina would not be affected.

The spokeswoman said the airline was working closely with the government to "protect" current slots for regional routes, but admitted there were also no plans to increase services.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has been at pains this week, in the wake of Mr O'Farrell's comments, to stress the importance of a second airport for Sydney.

Mr O'Farrell instead supports the idea of expanding Canberra's terminal and building a high-speed link to Sydney.

Mr Albanese, who along with the NSW Government commissioned an independent report into aviation capacity needs for Sydney, said inaction on a second airport in the state's capital could have disastrous consequences for regional centres.

"National Party members know that if nothing is done for a second Sydney airport, then regional access to Sydney will be under threat," Mr Albanese said this week.

"The consequences for regional New South Wales of the existing system, whereby there are right now, no (additional) regional slots available for people in regional New South Wales, is a real handbrake on those regional communities.

"Access to Sydney Airport is under threat if something isn't done to get a second airport. We know that the owners of Sydney Airport would quite like to get rid of the smaller regional aircraft and just concentrate on the large international craft, but there is a real consequence of that for regional New South Wales."

The authors of the 3200-page report said they recognised the continued importance of access to the Sydney airport by regional communities.

"The committee does not recommend any reduction to the existing level of protection of slots for intrastate services; nor does the committee support the forced relocation of any regional services to other airports," the report reads.

However the steering committee did suggest "a staged reduction in the level of use of small aircraft over time would assist in maximising the passenger throughput at the airport".

"The committee supports preventing the allocation of slots for new services operated by aircraft of less than 50 seats from 2015, increasing to 70 seats from 2020, recognising that the main use of aircraft up to 70 seats is for regional air services, slots allocated for services that are already operating should be grandfathered."


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