Melbourne-based Sharp Airlines is exiting the Griffith - Melbourne route at the end of March, severing only direct air link between the inland New South Wales regional center and Australia's second-biggest city. Sharp Airlines says the route would have wrapped up sooner, but for Federal Government funding throughout the pandemic that kept it operating.
"Over the past two years, Sharp Airlines have operated limited but essential airline services between Melbourne (MEB) and Griffith (GFF)," the airline says in a statement on its website. "These services were recognized as part of the Regional Airline Network Support program, funded by the Federal Government.
"With the scheme coming to an end, Sharp Airlines will cease flights between Essendon and Griffith for foreseeable future. We will continue to operate our regular services until March 31, 2022."
An interesting regional route that failed to ignite passenger interest
Sharp Airlines commenced their six-day-a-week flights between the two airports in mid-2019. The service was somewhat of an anomaly, at least at the Melbourne end, where it used Essendon Airport rather than Tullamarine Airport (MEL). But services like this, which work purely as point-to-point services, target country commuters needing to get to the city for appointments rather than servicing passengers connecting on and off other airlines.
Griffith's Area News reports by the end of 2019, the route's viability was in doubt. "While we had people who used the service on a regular basis, we just got to the point that without the support from the scheme where the service was not deemed viable on an ongoing basis," Sharp Airlines CEO Dallas Hay told the newspaper.
Mr Hay said the service had failed to breakeven, let alone make any money, and the decision to exit the route was a commercial one.
"The service has not proven to be one that is needed or utilized by the broader community of Griffith," he said. "While we have no plans for the foreseeable future to open up this service again, we will continue to keep an open mind."
Griffith keeps its Sydney connection
The Australian Federal Government had been underwriting many regional air services throughout the pandemic via their Regional Airline Network Support program. As flying reboots in Australia, the government's largesse towards airlines is ending.
Griffith is located 286 miles (460 kilometers) from Melbourne. Although located in New South Wales, Griffith is considerably closer to Melbourne than Sydney, the capital of New South Wales. That closer distance would logically see the bulk of medical, student, and professional traffic in and out of Griffith bound for Melbourne, but that seems not the case here. Sharp's lack of frequencies may have deterred that customer base from flying with them.
Meanwhile, it isn't all bad news for Griffith. The small local council-run airport picked up QantasLink flights from Sydney (SYD) last year, much to the displeasure of the then Sydney - Griffith sole operator, Regional Express (Rex). QantasLink is currently running daily return Dash-8 flights between Sydney - Griffith while Rex flies return at least twice a day using their Saab 340s.
And while Rex might look like a likely replacement for Sharp Airlines on the Melbourne - Griffith, Rex confirmed the route isn't for them.