Rex confirmed on Thursday evening that the ex-Virgin 737 shot by Australian Aviation’s Lenn Bayliss having its tail branding removed is the very first aircraft added to its new capital city fleet.
Rex previously announced it was close to a deal to lease a number of 737-800 NG aircraft to fly its new network between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with speculation insisting some were from Virgin’s trimmed fleet.
On Thursday evening, Rex finally fired the starting pistol on the race to wrestle control of Australia’s so-called Golden Triangle from Qantas and Virgin. VH-VUF will now be used for training activities before the proving flight for CASA on 5 December.
Rex’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said, “Rex has an 18-year track record of leading on time performance and affordable fares in its regional services and for the first time the domestic market can look forward to a safe, reliable air service that is affordable.
“If our services prove successful, we will inject up to 10 aircraft into the domestic market by the end of 2021. From there, we intend to develop a full domestic airline network, linking all the capital cities over time.”
Rex also revealed it will release its new livery by the end of the month.
The purchase of the 737s was facilitated by PAG Asia Capital, which is set to initially invest $50 million for secured convertible notes that could allow it to hold 23 per cent of Rex’s shares by December.
Rex executive chairman Lim Kim Hai said, “With PAG’s support, I have every reason to believe that Rex can successfully launch its domestic major city jet operations.”
In May, the airline first announced its ambitious plans to take on Qantas and Virgin by expanding its network to service Australian capital city routes, including the coveted Golden Triangle – between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Rex earlier this year recorded an underlying profit before tax of $250,000 and an increase in revenue, from $318 million last year to $322 million in FY20, despite the coronavirus crisis.
The positive results also marked a remarkable turnaround from March, when Rex warned it would have no choice but to announce the “shutting down of its network” if it didn’t receive financial aid, even threatening to stop transporting COVID-19 testing samples.
The strong performance was in part attributed by some to the company accepting $62.1 million of government grants, including JobKeeper and regional aviation bailouts.