It was meant to be a show of strength for the return of direct flights between Coffs Harbour and Brisbane, but travellers to and from Melbourne emerged as the big winners from yesterday’s packed Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Representatives from Virgin Australia announced the scheduled Saturday departure from Melbourne will come forward from 11.50am to 8.45am, meaning the returning flight from Coffs Harbour will depart at 11.10am and arrive in the Victorian capital at 1.05pm.

One person was overheard to say: “Just in time for the first bounce at the MCG.”

The change in flight times will take effect from April 11.

The announcement came after aviation marketing expert Jayne Davey from Three Consulting outlined the results from a four-year study designed to shore up support for an increase in direct flights from Coffs Harbour to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Based on statistics and analysis supplied by local company Jetty Research, she said the study has built a compelling case for even more growth in Coffs Harbour Regional Airport traffic.

She said in the 2013 calendar year the airport serviced 382,000 passengers – an increase of 12% on 2012.

But it was the potential for further growth she was keen for the Virgin Australia representatives to take back to head office, with surveys showing pent-up demand for a direct Coffs Harbour Brisbane service and more flights to and from Melbourne.

Ms Davey said within the Coffs Harbour catchment area there was currently the potential for 716,000 passengers arriving and departing each year.

Alex O’Connor from Virgin Australia said the airline was proud of its long association with Coffs Harbour, which in August 2002 became the first regional destination for the airline – then called Virgin Blue.

While making no promises, she assured the 200 business leaders Virgin Australia was looking very closely at the capacity of the airline’s existing and potential routes, including Brisbane.

Virgin Australia already flies direct between Port Macquarie and Brisbane, a fact not lost on the mayor, Denise Knight.

“What is Port Macquarie doing that we’re not doing to win your love?” she asked.

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