Nothing will ever be the same in Australian air travel because of Tiger’s surprise move to fly a lighter weight full scale single aisle Airbus jet into country airports. Its plans for 144 seat A319s involve upgrading at least 20 rural centres all over the country to take main line sized jets, using local government money.

The plot outlined by Tiger’s group chief executive Tony Davis is straight out of the Ryanair manual on how to slice up legacy carriers in Europe.

Tiger, headquartered in a demountable tin box at Melbourne Airport, is under siege this morning by “parties” that would be prepared to fund an extra 500-1000 feet of local runway in return for the promise of fast, cheap jet flights bringing hundreds of extra visitors to regions tourists rarely touch.

Airports like Tamworth, Ballarat, Ceduna, Mildura, Devonport, Burnie, Toowoomba and Barcaldine not to mention Sydney’s Bankstown, spring to mind. But unintended consequences might also make this a revolution that outruns the ambitions of the Singaporean controlled trans border low cost airline franchise that will by year’s end stretch from Vladivostok to Hobart via dozens of places all over much of Asia as well as here.

Qantaslink would be the big loser if its troubled and unreliable turbo-prop services come up against an Airbus jet which at 144 seats would be roomier than any mainline 737s or A320s including Tiger’s other stuffy 180 seat A320s.

Which Qantas wouldn’t take lightly, meaning it would make a punitive competitive response. And Virgin Blue would be a big winner, as it is already spreading a very unstuffy Brazilian airliner branded as E-jets to country airports, and would benefit even more than Tiger from increased regional airport infrastructure improvements.

The ease with which its regional assault can be imitated is “light” Tiger’s weak point. It is only bringing in two of the A319s by the end of this year, and can be easily swamped by Qantas or Virgin Blue deliberately reducing the seat counts on a few mainline jets to enable them to target the Singaporeans wherever they go. They had would have had planners working on how to do that since a few minutes after Tony Davis made his announcement yesterday.

Virgin Blue will have at least nine E-jets chasing Tiger’s two A319s by December.

The important thing about Tiger’s move is the new business model behind it. Of course nobody in Melbourne would think about flying to Ballarat. But what if several thousand tourists each week decided to start or end their interstate budget fare-based holidays in the Victorian gold fields instead of Tullamarine?

It’s Tourism Victoria’s dream come true, and for tourism authorities everywhere else in the wide brown land.

If the success of Ryanair, easyJet and Air Berlin mean anything, they mean smooth, fast and cheap air routes will criss cross the country within five or six years, and long road trips will fade away into the past.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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