Jetstar will close its Newcastle maintenance base by the end of the year as part of massive job cuts announced by parent company Qantas on Thursday.
The maintenance hangar employs 112 staff, including aircraft engineers, 38 apprentices and support staff.
Jetstar said it would also close its bases for 70 pilots and cabin crew in Newcastle.
Unions put the job losses at Williamtown at about 220, a number Jetstar disputed.
The news came on the same day Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed the Newcastle unemployment rate had jumped to 10 per cent, its highest level in 17 years and well above the state and national rates.
Jetstar's Newcastle base was originally the headquarters of regional airline Impulse, which Qantas acquired in 2001. Jetstar's first flights were between Newcastle and Sydney in 2004.
A spokesperson for the carrier said the Newcastle maintenance hangar had served Jetstar well when the company operated only 14 aircraft on the east coast but was no longer suitable.
"As our fleet, network and schedule has grown, the hangar no longer suits our operational needs," the spokesperson said. "The hangar does not fit our larger aircraft, and the space is limited to one aircraft at a time."
Newcastle was no longer a "major base in our network", limiting when the company could conduct heavy maintenance out of the hangar.
"With the current challenging environment, we have made the decision to undertake the transition to Melbourne this year.
"Over the last 16 years our highly skilled team in Newcastle have shown incredible professionalism and passion for Jetstar, and redeployment opportunities will be available."
The spokesperson said the company would guarantee the existing apprentices' positions if they were prepared to move to Melbourne, but it was unclear how many other staff would be redeployed.
Jetstar employee Bob Toovey, a representative of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, said staff had received no assurances about redundancies or relocations during a phone hook-up with a senior manager on Thursday.
Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce announced on Thursday morning that the company would slash 6000 jobs and continue to stand down another 15,000 workers as it struggles to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The job cuts amount to about 20 per cent of the company's workforce and include pilots, cabin crew, engineers, ground crew and corporate staff.
Qantas will also ground at least 100 aircraft for up to 12 months and slash $15 billion in costs over the next three years.
"We have to position ourselves for several years where revenue will be much lower. And that means becoming a smaller airline in the short term," Mr Joyce said.
"Most airlines will have to restructure in order to survive, which also means they'll come through this leaner and more competitive. For all these reasons, we have to take action now."
Qantas has cancelled all international flights, except for services to New Zealand, until late October.
Newcastle Airport chief executive Dr Peter Cock revived calls for governments to invest in Newcastle Airport's long-awaited upgrade, including improving its runway to accommodate planes capable of flying to more international destinations.
"We understand that private industry needs to work with all levels of government to create the jobs of tomorrow," Dr Cock said in a media statement.
"In our region we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to upgrade our runway to Code E status, the completion of which will significantly enhance the future economic prospects of the Hunter and northern NSW.
"Today's announcement from Qantas is certainly disappointing but not nearly as impactful as failing to deliver this game-changing infrastructure project for our region."
Shortland MP Pat Conroy said at a press conference at the airport on Thursday that he felt sorry for Jetstar staff who had lost their jobs or been asked "unrealistically" to move to Melbourne.
He said the job losses could have been avoided if the federal government had acted earlier to support the airline industry.
"Of the 370 jobs going from Jetstar in Australia today, I think it's very clear that the vast majority are in the Hunter," he said.
Jetstar resumed flights to Melbourne 10 days ago after months of lockdown, but it is understood demand has fallen since Victoria started recording new outbreaks of COVID-19.
IN OTHER NEWS:
A Jetstar employee has hit out at the company for a "lack of compassion and consultation" after staff were notified on Thursday morning that about 200 jobs would be slashed at Newcastle.
The news came on the same day Qantas, Jetstar's parent company, announced massive cutbacks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Bob Toovey, Jetstar counsellor for the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, said staff had received an early-morning email alerting them of a phone hook-up with a senior maintenance manager.
The group call telling staff their jobs were being cut had lasted "no more than two minutes".
"It was a one-way conversation," Mr Toovey said. "The lack of compassion was probably what hurt the most.
"It was all over very quickly. He just told us that Newcastle was closing and that it would be gone by the end of the year. There was no talk about redundancies or relocation ... nothing like that."
The job losses include cabin crew, pilots and engineers. Unions estimate the total job losses will be about 220, plus others indirectly employed as part of Jetstar's operations at Williamtown airport.
A Jetstar spokesperson disputed the 220 figure, saying the staff affected included 112 in the maintenance base and 70 pilots and cabin crew.
Mr Toovey said he was shocked by the decision because on Monday he had been involved in a phone call with senior managers in which he had asked whether the company planned to move staff to either Melbourne or Brisbane and the answer had been no.
Jetstar said the company would guarantee the positions of 38 apprentices at Williamtown if they were prepared to move to Melbourne.
Mr Toovey said the hangar in Newcastle had been viewed as "the centre of excellence" in the company.
"We have achieved well and truly up towards 100 per cent efficiency," he said. "You never get 100 per cent, but Newcastle's figures have always been excellent."
He said staff had always been "150 per cent engaged and motivated" but now felt let down. Another engineer, who asked not to be named, described Newcastle as the "'spiritual home" of Jetstar and said it was the company's best-performing engineering and crew port.
Jetstar launched in 2004 flying between Newcastle and Sydney after taking over Williamtown-based regional carrier Impulse Airlines.
"It is an incredibly professional workforce, and to be losing people of that experience and knowledge ... it's a very sad day," the employee said. "We've been on stand down now for three or four months, so we understand what it feels like, but to actually hear the words that they're shutting down the base, it's tough.
"It was only a few months ago when there was plans drawn up for a possible new hangar in the precinct."
He said he hoped staff would be able to transfer to Melbourne if they wanted to.
"There's four or five couple who are flight attendants and engineers, or are flight attendants and pilots. It's tough."
- with RICK ALLEN