Tiger’s first domestic flight has taken off since the aviation safety authority grounded the airline six weeks ago.
TT558 from Melbourne to Sydney took off at midday, 10 minutes late. Tiger’s newly installed chief executive Tony Davis and about 120 other passengers were aboard.
Passengers spoken to by Fairfax Media said they were confident problems with the airline’s safety had been resolved.
The flight comes as a relief to Tiger after the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) lifted the airline’s flying ban on Wednesday following a six-week grounding and safety investigation.
Flight TT558 is one of three return flights to Sydney the airline will operate today, as it gradually gets back to its feet.
The safety authority has imposed strict new licence conditions that limit it to flying 18 flights a day for the rest of the month. Any increase in services is subject to the safety regulator’s approval.
At a modest gathering at its equally modest departure terminal, invited dignitaries, including aviation safety crusader independent Senator Nick Xenophon, Victoria’s Aviation Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips, Tiger’s newly appointed safety adviser Chris Manning and Melbourne Airport chief executive Chris Woodruff welcomed Tiger’s return to the air.
But there were no illusions about the task ahead to rebuild confidence in the airline.
“Going forward, the priority is to regain confidence,” Mr Davis said.
“The early indications are that we are doing that, the sales are very strong, the forward bookings are coming in now, and really building that foundation for solid growth,” Mr Davis said.
“We’ve downsized the business in the short term, we’ve consolidated all the operations to Tullamarine – that makes it easier as the aircraft are all in the one place.
“What we’re trying to do is build the processes and procedures to enable us to grow,” he said.
Part of that includes moving its administrative head office from the current buildings to a modern office off-site, in a nearby Tullamarine industrial park, which will take place in eight weeks.
“We’ve expanded the size of the management team, so we’re expanding the offices,” he said.
Mr Davis said the local operation enjoyed the “phenomenal” commitment of its Singaporean owners to make the necessary changes.
“I immediately came down [from Singapore] and immediately took charge of the situation personally. [This] is a tangible demonstration of how seriously we took this business and how committed we are to its long-term success.
“The fact that we have made that investment is a clear indication to the marketplace and our competitors that we’re not prepared to walk away from Australia and that we are committed to grow a sustainable, viable and safe operation.”
He dismissed a suggestion that it was a demotion to relocate from Singapore and relinquish, at least for now, his role as chief executive of the airline group to lead the local operation.
“If I’d stayed in Singapore and said it was someone else’s problem I would have been criticised for not taking it personally.
“When you have a situation where a powerful business needs help, and clearly is under some pressure, it’s appropriate that the most senior person in the organisation takes personal responsibility.
“The best way I could do that was to come down here and fix that,” Mr Davis said.
Among the passengers trickling into the Tiger terminal to check in this morning were a trio of Essendon friends, who were heading to Sydney for The Sun-Herald City2Surf fun run.
“We booked three months ago,” commerce student Stephanie Cornish, 21, said.
“It was either this or driving, so we’re glad Tiger’s back up and running.
“We were a bit worried [when the airline was grounded] but what can you do?”
But the trio held no concerns for safety.
“They’re back up and flying so everything must be right with CASA, we’re pretty confident it will be all right,” Ms Cornish said.