TAMWORTH may once again have a third airline after Regional Express (Rex) threw its hat in the ring to service the city.
Rex network strategy general manger Warrick Lodge said the company would be happy to help fill the void left by Virgin, which last week opted to discontinue services to eight regional sites, including Tamworth.
"Rex has been inundated by desperate pleas from both individuals and community leaders to step into the shoes of Virgin Australia following their announcement to exit eight regional routes," Mr Lodge said.
"Our heart is in the country and Rex will strive to provide these regional communities with a service even at break-even levels as part of our contribution to nation building at this time of severe hardship."
New England MP Barnaby Joyce welcomed the company's move "to pick up slack" left by Virgin.
"It's a good thing because it keeps competition in the Tamworth market," Mr Joyce said.
"Therefore, that keeps the price of tickets more affordable for our community."
The company's pledge comes after Virgin announced last week it would not return to Tamworth for the "foreseeable future", due to the strains placed on its business by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Virgin spokesperson cited "ongoing subdued customer demand" for the network changes.
"A lot of the Virgin pilots won't be able to fly right now because they haven't flown for so long they have actually passed their limits where they will now have to go back and do some training," Mr Joyce said.
"So, Virgin has got some problems and Rex picking up some of that slack is great."
Mr Lodge said Rex was open to discussing options with communities impacted by Virgin's departure.
"When Virgin Australia withdrew from the monopoly routes of Perth-Esperance and Perth-Albany in 2016 due to heavy losses on these routes, the Western Australian Government turned to Rex to pick up the pieces," he said.
"Prior to COVID, Rex introduced the community fare scheme and more flight frequency to these routes, resulting in record passenger numbers at a time when regional passenger numbers in WA were in decline.
"Rex will apply this same operational discipline to all the abandoned routes and will help nurse them back to full recovery as the pandemic subsides.
"While many of the affected regional cities have already reached out to Rex, we invite all affected cities to contact us."