A LIFELINE from the federal government will boost flights to Tamworth and Armidale.
Qantas and Virgin Australia services have limped along in the regional centres after they were hit hard by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The federal government has agreed to underwrite a domestic and regional routes to the tune of $165 million, Member for New England Barnaby Joyce said.
"I went into direct negotiations with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce to maintain flights to Armidale and Tamworth," he said.
"It will be vastly reduced, but it keeps us in connection with an aerial route to Sydney.
"Everything is a hard game at the moment."
The new services are expected to launch as soon as possible to stem financial hemorrhaging in the aviation industry and boost the economies in Tamworth and Armidale.
Tamworth was chosen because of its reputation as a regional business hub and Armidale as host of the University of New England and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which Mr Joyce controversially decentralised from Canberra in 2019.
It is a case of use it or lose it, Mr Joyce said, with passenger numbers on Qantas flights from Tamworth as low as single figures.
"Those are crucial services that must be maintained," Mr Joyce said.
"Basically, if there's no-one on the plane it will be hard to mount the argument as to why we need it.
"I'm planning for what happens when we remove the restrictions on COVID-19, I want to see Tamworth's economy fired up as quickly as possible and to do that I need things like this to maintain operation."
Qantas and Virgin Australia will run the new domestic services for eight weeks initially and it's expected some ground and flight crews will return to work.
The new flights would help businesses, but it's important they be scheduled thoughtfully, Tamworth Business Chamber president Jye Segboer said.
"Hopefully these are not on the same day, if there's only one flight a week people will have to stay in Sydney for a week essentially," he said.
"This is really important especially for people who need to travel for medical services and the specialists who once flew to town but now have to drive.
"If they don't structure it right they are not going to get the passengers."
The domestic flights will be monitored by the federal government to determine viability.
Among the regional centres included in the flight return are Coffs Harbour, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga.