Uncertainty about Darwin-based Airnorth’s future as its parent Bristow Group tries to stave off bankruptcy has prompted independent carrier Regional Express (Rex) to consider operating in the Northern Territory.
Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said he would lead a delegation to the NT in coming weeks to talk with key stakeholders after the Rex board discussed the option at a meeting on 23 May.
“Following Airnorth’s parent company, Bristow Group, going into Chapter 11 in the United States, many concerned stakeholders have approached Rex to ensure the long-term viability of regional air services in the Northern Territory.” Sharp said in a statement on Monday.
Bristow Group announced on May 13 that it had voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 protection of its US and Cayman Island entities in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas so it could restructure its balance sheet to alleviate debt and continue to provide aviation services to clients.
Airnorth is not included in the Chapter 11 scheme and continues to operate in a business-as-usual scenario.
Eastern Airways, Bristow’s Scottish carrier operating out of Aberdeen was not in Chapter 11 either, but immediately after Bristow announced the bankruptcy protection it sold Eastern to Orient Industrial Holdings, controlled by Richard Lake, one of Eastern’s founders.
Lake and Brian Huxford sold Eastern to Bristow in 2014 in a multimillion-pound deal.
“The Rex Board is sympathetic to the plight of the Territorians and shares the views of the concerned stakeholders who believe that Rex would be the best chance for the NT to have a sustainable, quality regional air service with affordable fares,” Sharp said.
Sharp cited Rex entering Western Australia for the first time after winning a tender for routes between Perth and Albany and Perth and Esperance from February 2016 as an example of the regional airline saving services that were dropped by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA).
“These routes were abandoned by the previous operator on the grounds that they were highly unprofitable,” Sharp said.
“Today, Rex is profitably servicing these routes with more flights, lower fares, greater passenger numbers and better reliability, at a time when the rest of the regional routes in WA are experiencing decreasing passenger numbers and rising fares.”
Rex presently makes 75,000 flights a year to 60 destinations in Australia, with about 55 Saab 340 aircraft.
It also owns air-freight and charter operator, Pel-Air Aviation and the Australian Airline Pilot Academy.
If Rex does start services in and out of Darwin, the only state or territory where it will have no representation will be the Australian Capital Territory.
It ceased flying between Canberra and Sydney in December 2004 after racking up $9 million in losses on the route dominated by Qantas.
At the time, then managing director Geoff Breust cited a lack of support from the federal government and the significant cost of using Canberra Airport as reasons for ending the route.