Will Qantas come to the rescue after Rex 'tantrum'?

UPDATE 4.30pm: Qantas has responded to claims by Rex airlines it was to blame for the decision to cut the route from Lismore to Sydney, saying it will look at offering services to communities impacted by the decision.

While Qantas doesn't currently offer a service between Lismore and Sydney, it announced extra flights into the Ballina Byron Gateway airport on Friday.

QantasLink CEO John Gissing called the claims a "classic Rex tantrum", and said: "Rex's idea of competition is that it's something that happens to other people, because they believe they have an enshrined right to be the only carrier on some regional routes".

The CEO said Rex received millions of dollars in "bespoke government assistance" for its regional operations at the same time as it acquired new aircraft to fly between capital cities.

"It feels like Rex is trying to blame Qantas for other challenges they may be having," Mr Gissing said.

"We don't start routes if we don't think they will be commercially viable for us," he said, adding that extra capacity and lower fares increased overall travel demand, which was good for regional communities.

"We'll be reviewing our network and consider whether we can offer services on any of the routes that Rex is threatening to pull out of," Mr Gissing said.

 

Original story: Rex airline has announced its decision to cut its Lismore to Sydney route raising questions about Lismore Airport's viability.

Rex blamed Qantas for its decision, saying it needed to "embark on a major revamp of its regional route network in response to aggressive predatory moves by Qantas into thin regional routes serviced by Rex".

Rex said it was "unable to continue subsidising marginal routes that we have serviced for the past 20 years", announcing the Lismore to Sydney route would cease once the government support through the RANS program is discontinued at the end of March.

The airline said 12,000 passengers flew the route each year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A flying school and various private hangars are located at the airport, but as Rex was the only passenger service operating from the Lismore airport, it raises concerns about its future.

It is believed the Lismore to Grafton route would also cease.

Lismore mayor Vanessa Ekins asked the airline to reconsider its decision and asked Federal and State Government representatives to assistance in getting the flights reinstated.

Cr Vanessa Ekins said Lismore and Rex have had a strong and mutually beneficial relationship over the last 20 years that the airline has serviced our community.

"As a measure of goodwill, Lismore City Council waived airport fees during COVID to support the airline through this challenging time for the entire aviation industry," she said.

"The reinstatement of flights is particularly important now as REX's new routes linking capital cities provides an opportunity for the Lismore community to link their flight to Sydney with connecting flights to other cities.

"This will benefit both REX and our community."

She said Ballina airport expansion had an impact on passenger numbers, but the new route through Grafton was helping to stabilise numbers.

Cr Ekins said the airline was important to Lismore's economy as Lismore was a hub for the region, being home to Southern Cross University and the District Court, and Lismore Base Hospital.

She said the airline also provided valuable jobs and freight transportation.

Meanwhile, Rex called on the ACCC to take enforcement actions against Qantas for its "predatory behaviour".

"All carriers are facing existential challenges and the ACCC must do its part to ensure

that the dominant carrier does not take advantage of the current situation to deliver pre-emptive strikes against its much smaller competitors, especially at a time when it is receiving massive handouts to stay solvent.

"In this environment, the introduction of new competing services in fragile regional routes should be set aside by the ACCC until we return to a semblance of normality. Indeed, this is consistent with the public benefit criterion accepted by the ACCC when it granted authorisation to Rex to enter into an unprecedented collaboration with Qantas on regional routes where the parties had competing services prior to the pandemic."