Virgin Australia Regional Airlines
|Founded||1963 as Carnarvon Air Taxis|
|Frequent-flyer program||Velocity Frequent Flyer|
|Parent company||Virgin Australia Holdings|
|Key people||Mark Davey, CEO|
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (formerly Skywest) is an Australian regional airline based in Perth; servicing key towns in the state of Western Australia as well as interstate destinations Darwin, Alice Springs, and Adelaide. In April 2013 Skywest was purchased by Virgin Australia Holdings as its new regional offshoot, and renamed Virgin Australia Regional Airlines.
Virgin Australia Regional was formed in 1963 as Carnarvon Air Taxis flying charter flights with small general aviation aircraft out of Carnarvon, Western Australia. In 1979 it changed its name to Skywest Aviation and moved to Perth's Jandakot Airport. In 1980 Skywest Airlines was formed (ICAO code OZW), based at Perth Airport, and acquired Stillwell Airlines and its routes; the combined fleet included 39 aircraft, making it the second largest commuter airline in Australia at the time. The Skywest Airlines/Aviation fleet included a mix of general aviation types and small airliners including GAF N-24 Nomads, Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirantes, Beechcraft King Air 200s & Fairchild SA-227 Metro IIIs, as well as smaller types such as Cessna 182 Skylanes and Piper Aztecs.
In 1982, the controlling companies merged Skywest Airlines with TransWest Airlines. At the time Skywest operated 16 aircraft and TransWest 25.
Then in 1983 it was proposed to merge Skywest with East-West Airlines, both were owned by the Devereaux group. The merger did not eventuate, but East-West operated flights in Western Australia on Skywest's behalf. In 1987 Skywest lost the Government Coastwatch contract, which severely weakened the business. The company was bought out by the Perron group and then on-sold shortly thereafter to TNT/News Limited and began operating under the Ansett banner. The East-West aircraft were divested for operations in Queensland and were later absorbed into Ansett. At this time, Skywest was operating most of its services with five BAe Jetstream 31s.
In 1998, Ansett introduced Fokker 50s into Skywest service. The airline continued to be owned by Ansett Australia, and operated flights on behalf of Ansett until the parent's demise in 2002. Skywest was then successfully purchased by private investors. In 2004 it was the subject of a hostile, but ultimately successful, takeover attempt by Singapore-based investment company CaptiveVision Capital. This takeover succeeded in gaining a majority stake. On 8 February 2007, news broke that the airline may be the target of a tie-up with Singapore-based Tiger Airways, although no business arrangements were ever concluded. Between 2004 and 2012 Skywest Airlines was entirely owned by CaptiveVision Capital which in turn was a subsidiary of ASX and London Stock Exchange AIM market-quoted Skywest Airlines.
Since 2004 under Skywest Airlines ownership, the fleet expanded from seven aircraft to 18 aircraft. Skywest's first Airbus A320 was registered in April 2010. It was delivered Perth on 23 October 2010 and operated charter services between Perth and Cloudbreak for Fortescue Metals Group. Skywest announced that it had optioned a second A320 on 12 May 2011.
On 10 January 2011, it was announced that Virgin Australia had established a 10-year alliance under which Skywest would operate up to 18 turboprops in the bigger carrier's colours. The alliance with the Perth-based airline was part of new push by Virgin Australia into regional Australia. The agreement saw the airlines codeshare on some of each other's flights. Virgin Australia and Skywest customers also could earn and redeem frequent flyer points on each other's networks. The aircraft were leased from Avation plc (LSE: AVAP) with the first four arriving in 2011.
In April 2012, Virgin Australia Holdings purchased 10% of Skywest Airlines, followed by a full takeover bid on 30 October 2012. It had received in principle support from the Board but the takeover would require shareholder and regulatory approval. On 11 April 2013, Virgin Australia Holdings completed its 100% acquisition of Skywest Airlines. From 7 May 2013, the use of the Skywest brand was discontinued and the airline became part of the Virgin Australia brand, however it continues to operate under its current Air Operator's Certificate and its own management team.
As of February 2018 the Virgin Australia Regional fleet consists of:
The main fleet is used for scheduled services in the WA Coastal network as well as a range of charter services supporting the resources industry. They are equipped with an all-economy layout and most with hot galleys. The Fokker 50s have a standard 33-inch seat pitch and 34" pitch for Fokker 100s, giving equivalent legroom to 'Premium economy' seats offered by other airlines, though due to airframe differences, some aircraft are unable to attain this pitch on all seats. The 7 Fokker 50s in the fleet were retired in 2016.
As of July 2018, Virgin Australia Regional operates scheduled flights to the following destinations:
- South Australia
- Northern Territory
- Western Australia
- Broome – Broome International Airport
- Geraldton – Geraldton Airport
- Kalgoorlie – Kalgoorlie Airport
- Karratha – Karratha Airport
- Kununurra – Kununurra Airport
- Newman – Newman Airport
- Onslow - Onslow Airport
- Perth – Perth Airport Main Hub – T2 & T1
- Port Hedland – Port Hedland International Airport
- Indian Ocean Territories
- Western Australia
Since Virgin Australia's take over, two original WA Coastal Network (Skywest) destinations have been cancelled (Exmouth & Busselton) with (Albany, Esperance & Ravensthorpe) also ended on 27 February 2016.
In addition to scheduled flights, Virgin Australia Regional has contracts with various mining companies to service the burgeoning Western Australian mining industry; via regular fly-in fly-out air charter flights to remote minesites. These contracts include flights between:
- Perth and West Angelas mine for Rio Tinto
- Perth and Barimunya, also known as Yandi for BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto
- Perth and Coondewanna, also known as Area C, the sister site to Barimunya for BHP Billiton
- Perth and Barimunya, also known as Brockman for Rio Tinto
- Busselton and West Angelas for Rio Tinto
- Busselton and Barimunya for Rio Tinto
- Albany and Barimunya for Rio Tinto
- Geraldton and Paraburdoo via Brockman
- Perth and Argyle
- Perth and Windarling on behalf of Portman Iron Ore
- Perth and The Granites minesite in the Tanami Desert on behalf of Newmont Tanami
- Perth and Ravensthorpe Nickel Mine with First Quantum Minerals.
- Various ports in the East Coast of Australia under contract to Virgin Australia commencing 2011.
Skywest previously held a contract to fly staff to Telfer, however in December 2010 this contract was terminated in favour of a contract with Alliance Airlines.
On 27 April 2012, Skywest finished flying to Fortescue Dave Forrest Airport (Cloudbreak Airport) for Fortescue Metals group, after losing the contract to Qantas' fly-in-fly-out-charter subsidiary Network Aviation.
Commencing in 2004, Island Bound Holidays chartered a Skywest Fokker 100 to undertake flights to Bali from Port Hedland. In 2010 Skywest commenced operation of scheduled services to Bali from Port Hedland. Skywest also offered flights from Geraldton to Bali in 2011.
In November 2007, Skywest joined Virgin Blue's loyalty program Velocity Rewards (now called Velocity Frequent Flyer). Velocity Points can be earned on all Virgin Australia Regional flights, excluding charter flights. Points awarded vary from 0.5 per mile to one per mile, depending on fare class.
Accidents & incidents
- On 13 May 1980, a Skywest Swearingen Metro II experienced a failure of its right engine at low altitude whilst approaching Esperance Airport during a scheduled passenger flight, forcing the pilot to execute an emergency landing in a nearby field. The single crewmember and all eleven passengers on board evacuated the aircraft before it was destroyed in a fire.
- Jetstar grows to tackle a Tiger The Australian 8 February 2007
- Tiger to take on Jetstar The Sydney Morning Herald 8 February 2007
- Creedy, Steve (29 October 2010). "Airbus gives Skywest room to grow: Civil Aviation Safety Authority proving flights". The Australian.
- "FE Investegate |Skywest Airlines Ltd Announcements | Skywest Airlines Ltd: Expansion of Fleet Airbus A320 and Fokker 100". Investegate.co.uk. 2011-05-12. Retrieved 2013-02-24.
- "Virgin Australia Invests in Skywest Airlines to Drive Growth in Regional Operations". Virgin Australia+date=10 April 2012.
- Virgin Australia to invest in Skywest London Stock Exchange 10 April 2012
- "Virgin does deals with Singapore, Tiger, Skywest". Sydney Morning Herald. 30 October 2012.
- Offer for company Skywest Airlines 30 October 2012
- Virgin Australia Completes the Acquisition of Skywest Virgin Australia 11 April 2013
- "Virgin Australia completes Skywest Airlines acquisition". Proactive Investors Australia. 11 April 2013.
- Australian civil aircraft register – Virgin Australia Regional Airlines search conducted 13 March 2017
- "Virgin to sell entire Fokker 50 fleet". Australian Aviation. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
- "Virgin Australia's Regional Network". Virgin Australia. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
- "Concern for regional WA air services as Virgin pulls out of Albany, Esperance routes". ABC News. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
- Island Bound Holidays
- Virgin Blue Media Release
- 1980 Sykwest accident at the Aviation Safety Network
Media related to Skywest at Wikimedia Commons