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Virgin Australia’s woes show a City-Country divide.

Virgin Australia is Australia’s second-largest airline and the only major airline competing with Qantas in Australia’s domestic aviation market. In regional Western Australia, Virgin is the only airline competing with Qantas for major routes (no low-cost airlines fly into regional WA).

In total, Virgin operates nine routes in regional WA, connecting the towns of Broome, Newman, Karratha, Onslow, Port Headland and Kalgoorlie to the state’s capital, Perth along with a Kalgoorlie to Melbourne service and an international, Port Headland to Denpasar service.

A Virgin Australia Fokker 100 plane boarding at Broome Airport. (PHOTO: Bahnfrend CC BY-SA 4.0)

Most of the routes that Virgin Australia fly into and within regional WA are in direct competition with Qantas, which leads to more competitive pricing on those routes.

On April 20th 2020, Virgin Australia was placed into Voluntary Administration, appointing Deloitte’s Vaughan Strawbridge, John Greig, Sal Algeri and Richard Hughes as administrators.

There is a fear by some in regional WA that either a collapsed or restructured Virgin Australia could negatively impact airfares into the regions.

I set out to see whether there was a difference of opinion between regional and metropolitan people on the impacts a collapsed Virgin Australia could have on the economy and airfares in the regions.

The story of focus is an ABC online news article written by James Carmody, published on April 22nd 2020 and titled ‘If Virgin Australia collapses amid coronavirus restrictions WA flight prices could skyrocket’The article discusses the fears that many in the business and tourism community have surrounding the potential collapsing of the airline and the impact that could have on prices. The story was posted on the ABC Pilbara and ABC Perth Facebook Pages on that same day.

I recorded and sorted the reactions and original comments from each of the posts to see whether there were differences in opinion. I sorted comments into 'Worried' about the impact a Virgin collapse could have, 'Unworried' about it and 'Neutral'.

ABC Perth

The ABC Perth post garnered 42 reactions, 24 of which were ‘Likes’, two were ‘Wow’, 14 ‘Sad’ and two ‘Laugh’. No user reacted to the post with a ‘Heart’ react or an ‘Angry’ react.

There were 20 original comments made on the post. The sentiment analysis concluded that 12 of the comments were unworried about the impact of a Virgin collapse could have on regional airfares, three were neutral, and five were worried about the situation.

The vast majority of comments were not worried about the situation with commenters citing concerns surrounding the foreign ownership of the company, notably the Chinese stake, as a reason why government and consumers should not support the airline.

Another reason cited was a theory that Virgin was backed by big international airlines to damage Qantas so that the asset could be devalued and sold to a foreign bidder.

Commenters who were worried about the impact of a collapse say that airfares would skyrocket under a Qantas monopoly, they mention ideas to save the airline including a federal nationalisation and the state government starting a state regional airline if Virgin collapses or pulls out of regional travel under a restructure.

ABC Pilbara

The ABC Pilbara post was published on April 22nd. The post garnered 50 reactions, 23 were ‘Likes’, three ‘Wow’, nine ‘Angry’ and 15 ‘Sad’. There were no heart or laugh reactions.

There were 24 original comments made on the post, eight of which were unworried about the impact a potential Virgin collapse could have on regional airfares, zero were neutral, and 16 were worried about the potential impact.

The majority of commenters who were worried about the impact said that airfares in regional WA were already high and that without Virgin competing, Qantas would price gouge the regions. There was the opinion of multiple commenters that Qantas’s commitment to regional travel was not high and this could be seen in an inferior service to that of Virgin.

The minority of commenters who were not worried stated that because Virgin is foreign-owned that government and consumers should not support them, and that Qantas would not raise airfares because they could make more money with guaranteed passengers if they had a monopoly.

It was said that the ABC and many commenters were being overly negative about the situation, and everything would work out.

These results show that there are some significant differences in opinion between the commenters on a Facebook page for a predominately city-based audience and that of the commenters of a predominantly regional-based audience.

The people who commented on the ABC Pilbara post were much more likely to be worried about the impact of a Virgin collapse than those that commented on the ABC Perth post. Despite this, the points made by both sides of the argument were mostly the same.

This points to an example of the city-country divide that many says exist within Australia. The city-based audience of ABC Perth was more concerned about bigger picture things such as the foreign ownership of a major Australian airline and that the airline was poorly managed. The regional audience of ABC Pilbara had more hip pocket concerns for the regional economy and the price of their airfares.

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