Almost under the radar — compared to the saturation coverage of Qantas — a fierce little battle for incentives-to-fly is going on between Tiger and Jetstar.

On Friday, Tiger announced it would quit Darwin only a few hours before Jetstar was heaping praise on the NT government, the airport and the local industry for its “support” in making the top end capital its new “hub” for northern Australia.

Figures of around $3 million worth of “support” were mentioned by informed sources. It doesn’t matter what the amount was, as there is nothing improper or illegal in Australia in carriers leveraging all sorts of concessions or commitments to start or expand services.

Tiger did the same thing when it chose Rockhampton and Mackay as Queensland destinations, choices which may have been wrong given that it has stopped selling those flights from late October pending a review.

Virgin Blue has used the same tactics in its expansion. It muscled in on the Qantaslink routes to Port Macquarie and Albury the same way, and today announced it would do the same thing in Mildura, using real jets instead of stuffy little turbo-prop buzz boxes like its competitors.

Tiger seems to have real problems in Australia. Since it launched last November it has been easily rolled out of any market Jetstar chooses, having been sent packing from Newcastle and now Darwin the moment the Qantas subsidiary became serious about extra flights and similar fares.

But Tiger spokesperson Matt Hobbs claims this will all change soon, when it announces new but unspecified plans for the Singapore-owned venture.

In the meantime, both Tiger and Jetstar are misusing the term “hub” and “base” for what are only exercises in parking jets overnight for better scheduling, and paying for the cheapest accommodation they can get for the crews.

The Darwin Jetstar “hub” involves three jets from the middle of next year. Tiger’s new Adelaide base, where incentives may have been easy to pick up after Jetstar said it was closing its own, is where two Tiger jets will park.

“Hub” in the real world means Changi, or Chicago’s O’Hare airport, with banks of hundreds of flights arriving, connecting and departing within a few hours.

Tiger even claims to have invested $105 million in aircraft assets in Adelaide. Really? No-one ever pays that much for a few small Airbuses, and they do fly all over the country.

Will the general media swallow the hype? Probably.

Peter Fray

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