A resort operator is launching direct weekend flights from Melbourne to Uluru to overcome the absence of main airlines on the route.
The three-hour charter flights from Tullamarine Airport start on April 4.
The flights will provide a speedier connection to the Rock for Melbourne passengers who now have to transit through Sydney with Jetstar and Virgin Australia, or go via Alice Springs with Qantas.
Depending on connections and delays, it can take seven hours to reach Uluru from Melbourne – longer than it takes to fly to New Zealand and almost as long as it takes to get to Singapore.
"Melbourne needs decent direct flights," said Ray Stone, the executive general manager of sales and marketing for Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, which manages Red Centre attractions and accommodation such as Sails in the Desert.
About 20 per cent of visitors to Uluru are from Melbourne, and 36 per cent from Sydney where Qantas has cut back its daily flights to a four-times-a-week Jetstar service.
"I understand what the airlines are doing," Mr Stone said. "You can't blame them for pulling back or consolidating their routes. They have shareholders to report to.
"Trying to balance the airline needs with our reality is challenging. Our bookings are pacing well at the moment. We think we can increase the numbers out of Melbourne.
"It is the first direct flight out of the city for quite some time, perhaps six or seven years since Qantas ran to Uluru three or four times weekly."
The charter flights will be on an Alliance Air Fokker 75 and will operate on a trial basis for 13 weeks.
They will depart Melbourne at 9am on Friday and return from Uluru at 3pm on Sunday to provide a long-weekend escape.
The flights will have a check-in luggage allowance of 20kilograms and carry-on of seven. There will be free coffee, tea and water but passengers will have to buy snacks.
Flight and accommodation packages, including airport transfers, breakfast and indigenous activities, start from $899.
The flights coincide with several new events in the Red Centre, including the Tjungu Festival on April 24-27, which includes indigenous musicians and bands, a fashion parade, an indigenous film festival and food events such as a bush-food master class.
It will be followed by the Outback Fest from May 3-4 that will include the Uluru Camel Cup and an outback ball under the stars.