Residents of Albany and Esperance in Western Australia’s south look set to receive more flight options, although not necessarily too many more seats, to Perth once Regional Express (Rex) takes over two government-regulated routes from Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) from February 2016.
Rex has officially signed the deed to operate the two routes for the next five years, having won the tender in November and the first flights are due to begin on February 28 2016.
The airline published schedules for its first two routes in WA on Wednesday, which showed Rex planned to offer four flights a day on the Albany-Perth route on weekdays, and three flights over the weekend for a weekly total of 23. This was up from 13 weekday flights and two weekend services from VARA under the current contract.
And Rex will have three flights a day on weekdays between Esperance and Perth, with a further three on the weekend lifting the weekly total to 18. VARA offered two flights a day during the week and three over the weekend.
WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder said the new schedule represented 53 per cent increase in weekly flights to Albany and 38 per cent boost for Esperance.
“The state government’s decision to award Rex the regulated air services routes between Perth and Esperance and Perth and Albany will provide consumers with more travel options and flexibility than has previously been the case,” Nalder said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Rex’s service will result in a better range of flight times for travellers and an increase in total seat capacity, allowing for an increase in passenger numbers on the routes.
While Rex flight schedules represented a significant jump in frequency, the increase in available seats will be more modest given the Saab 340s Rex will use have 34 seats compared with 46-seat Fokker 50s VARA is currently deploying on the two routes. The number of one-way seats at Albany and Esperance is going up by about six per cent and two per cent, respectively once Rex begins flying.
Rex said on Wednesday it would begin ticket sales once it had reached a deal with the two local councils on airport charges.
“We need to highlight that current airport charges at Albany and Esperance are significantly higher than in Rex’s eastern network,” Rex general manager for network strategy and sales Warrick Lodge said in a statement.
“Rex will work hard with the councils to reduce this cost but if this is not successful then inevitably ticket prices will have to reflect this.”
VARA decided not to bid to continue operating the two government-regulated routes, given they were losing money.
“The losses, frankly were just too big,” Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti told reporters in Perth on November 13.
“We just couldn’t find a way to make it work.”
VARA’s last flights to Albany and Esperance will be on February 27 2016 and the airline is selling its entire fleet of eight Fokker 50s.
Meanwhile, the WA government tender also resulted in Skippers Aviation continuing to operate Perth-Carnarvon-Monkey Mia and Perth-Northern Goldfields air routes, which covers Laverton, Leonora, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet and Wiluna, until June 2017.
However, Department of Transport said on its website it was continuing to “explore options for the Perth-Derby route with the aviation industry”.