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Regional Express says skilled worker visa changes will lead to cuts to services

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 1, 2017

A Regional Express (Rex) Saab 340 aircraft.
A Regional Express (Rex) Saab 340 aircraft.

Regional Express (Rex) fears recent changes to Australia’s skilled worker visa program will make it harder for the airline to recruit overseas pilots and lead to cuts in air services.

The federal government recently announced it was ending the 457 temporary skilled worker visa scheme.

In its place will be two new temporary skilled worker visas. The first is a two-year visa that included one option to extend for two more years. However, visa holders will not be able to apply for permanent residency.

There will also be a four-year temporary skilled worker visa that can be renewed and also included a pathway for permanent residency in Australia after three years.

The 457 visa, which will be scrapped in March 2018, was introduced by Prime Minister John Howard in 1996 and allows companies to employ overseas workers for job vacancies difficult to find Australian workers for. It also allowed 457 visa holders to have their family live with them in Australia on a 457 secondary visa.


Current 457 visa holders would be unaffected by the changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on April 18.

The federal government has also cut scores of occupations that will be eligible for the new visas, compared with the 457 visa.

Rex said the aeroplane pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer (Avionics) categories were among those removed completely.

Meanwhile, those applying under the aircraft maintenance engineers (airframe and engine) categories would only be eligible for the short-term two-year visa and therefore not able to seek permanent residency.

Rex chief operating officer Neville Howell said the changes being brought in would make it harder to recruit pilots and engineers from overseas.

“Rex is the only major airline in Australia that established its own pilot academy simply to train new pilots for its airline. Despite seven years of effort and 20 completed intakes of cadet pilots, Rex is still obliged to recruit overseas as the rate of poaching, reflecting the shortage of pilots, by the larger carriers locally and abroad, is simply staggering,” Howell said in a statement on Friday.

“The removal of pilots and licensed engineers from the skills shortage list has been done without any aviation industry inputs besides the unions.

“It is simply incredible that highly critical and scarce resources that require an enormous amount of specialised and high cost training have been removed when we see occupations like hairdressers, real estate agents, gardeners, florists, picture framers and footballers being left on the list.”

Howell said the proposed changes would “undoubtedly tear apart the socio-economic fabric of many smaller regional cities and result in a terminal downward spiral of these cities”.

“If the government does not reverse its stand on this matter, Rex and other regional carriers will have no choice but to shut services to the more marginal regional centres in order to conserve their pilot resources for the bigger routes,” Howell said.

“We call upon the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to place an immediate moratorium on the changes to the 457 visa program until a well-considered replacement list has been formulated reflecting the real needs of our economy.”

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Comments (17)

  • Good! Too many good GA pilots out there who need a job, but can’t get into airlines like REX; who instead opt for low hour (no hour) cadet pilots from their scheme. Time GA pilots were given a break! Pilot Shortage? Nonsense!

  • John


    yes changes need to be made. This is madness. There’s already a massive shortage of pilots & maintenance guys in OZ.

  • Mark


    Companies need to increase thier training and opportunies to be trained within Australia instead of taking the lazy and short term position That they have taken advantage of under 457,

  • Peter Gardiner


    The world is coming to an end, markets will crash & the sky will fall on our heads !! Sounds like the industry response to CAO 48.1

    If you pay people a reasonable wage & treat them properly so as they feel like a valued part of the business & not a cog in the machine they might stay with you.

    The 457 visa process is the most widely abused employment scheme there is. These changes are long overdue & will benefit all Australians.

  • Lloyd


    John (Sydney) and Peter Gardiner said it all quite well actually.

  • Adrian P


    Credit to REX the only major airline in Australia that established its own pilot academy simply to train new pilots for its airline,

    What are the others doing apart from poaching?

  • T. D


    Well said Peter. Time to employ Australian pilots and engineers on proper wages. who for a long time have missed out due to 457 abuse.. The overseas ownership of some companies is not a right for 457 “grants” .

  • Jeff


    In reference to other comments here Rex cannot be accused of being lazy as it is has invested millions in its own pilot training. It had done more than any other airline in Australia in injecting 100’s of pilots not only into Rex but ultimately into the airline industry. Yes there has been abuse of 457 visa regulations in some industries but it is only used in regional aviation to inject experienced Captains when the only other alternative is to reduce activity / exit routes.

  • deano


    A REX cadet is expected to pay over $100,000 for the course with at least $25k up front and no guarantee of a job at the end
    If someone like REX were serious, they could train the pilots at their cost and deduct their fees after the now qualified pilot, is employed by them
    Make a condition that there is a 5 year minimum contract to fly with REX so as to ensure they are paid in full for the training @ 20% per year from their salary
    How many young people are missing out on a career in aviation because of the large initial up front cost

  • Craigy


    Well AdrianP, Jetstar has its own cadet pilot program. So that’s what Jetstar is doing.

  • Russ


    Rex, how about raising the salary for a SAAB 340 CN and FO or giving an opportunity for more Pilots to be based in the more affordable regional cities that you help serve. Perhaps this will help stem the continual revolving door to the mainline operators. Is it realistic for a SAAB 340 CN to live and support a family in Sydney any more?

  • Peter


    It’s time Rex stopped complaining and recognised they have a problem with staff retention and the overall culture within the airline. Peter ‘s comments are spot on! In the end it’s an individuals choice to leave. Don’t give them a reason to start looking elsewhere or leave. And it’s not just about money.

  • Stu


    What a joke!

    When I applied for the Rex First Officer position I didn’t even get the curtisy of a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email.

    I have since had to move overseas to find employment.

    The sooner The Civil Aviation ‘Safety’ Authority wakes up to minimum qualifications for First Officers the better.

    Enough of allowing airlines to make money off pilot training through cadetships.

  • Trash Hauler


    You hit the nail on the head Peter no. 2. Not just Rex who are treating pilots with contempt. Look at the LCCs and Virgin struggling to retain pilots. The pilot shortage IS happening, now is time for the employers to give pilots a reason to hang around.

  • Steve


    FYI – qantas, Virgin, and jetstar all have their own Cadetship programs.

  • Red Barron


    So what does a captain and co captain of a Rex SAAB earn a year?

    Compared to Qantas link , jet star , virgin, Qantas ?

  • Graham


    Hey, here’s an idea.How about PUTTING MONEY INTO TRAINING instead of winging to the government.

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