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Qantas to fly axed Rex route as network row continues

written by Adam Thorn | March 9, 2021
QANTAS Dash-8s VH-TQZ and TQD wait patiently, Sydney 12.2.21 Justin McCoy
Qantas Dash-8s VH-TQZ and TQD wait patiently in Sydney on 12.2.21 (Justin McCoy)

Qantas has stepped in to fly one of the routes Rex has cut in the latest development in the row between the pair over networks.

From 1 July, the flag carrier will operate three return flights between Sydney and Cooma, which was previously exclusive to the regional carrier.

Rex, however, announced in February it was to discontinue that service, and four others, due to Qantas’ “predatory” behaviour of rivalling it on other routes.

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On Tuesday, Qantas said it was to operate three new routes between 1 July and 26 September for passengers to access snowfields during winter.

The new routes are:

  • Sydney to Cooma – three times a week on Thursday, Friday, Sunday;
  • Brisbane to Cooma – twice weekly on Friday and Sunday;
  • Brisbane to Albury – three times a week on Thursday, Friday, Sunday.

From Cooma, customers can access resorts of Perisher Valley, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass in NSW and from Albury, customers can make their way to Falls Creek and Hotham resorts in Victoria. The routes will be serviced by Qantas’ 74-seater Bombardier Dash 8s.

QantasLink CEO John Gissing said, “We’ll be working with the major ski resorts and transport operators to promote these new flights to millions of our frequent flyers around the country, with connections from our large domestic network through Sydney or Brisbane making a trip to the snowfields more accessible.

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“These new flights are also good news for local businesses, hospitality and tour operators in the region, helping drive tourism and reviving the industry that has been hurting from COVID-19.”

The row between the two airlines began when Rex said it was to discontinue five regional routes when the government-supplemented financial help expires at the end of March: Sydney–Bathurst, Sydney–Cooma, Sydney–Lismore, Sydney–Grafton and Adelaide–Kangaroo Island.

However, it blamed the decision to axe these routes on Qantas choosing to compete with it on eight separate routes (Sydney—Orange, Sydney–Merimbula, Sydney–Griffith, Melbourne–Merimbula, Melbourne–Albury, Melbourne–Wagga Wagga, Melbourne–Mount Gambier, Adelaide–Mount Gambier).

Rex’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said, “Qantas has clearly embarked on a deliberate strategy of moving into Rex’s routes that can only support one regional carrier in an attempt to intimidate and damage Rex in its traditional regional market, hoping that Rex would be a less formidable competitor in the domestic market.”

Qantas responded by branding the announcement “a classic Rex tantrum”.

“The fact is Rex is receiving millions of dollars in bespoke government assistance for its regional operations at the same time as it’s acquiring new aircraft to fly between capital cities,” said the business in a statement.

“It feels like Rex is trying to blame Qantas for other challenges they may be having. We don’t start routes if we don’t think they will be commercially viable for us.

“We know that extra capacity and lower fares increases overall travel demand, which is good news for the regional communities we will be operating to. 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.”

Despite the argument, Qantas ploughed on and formally launched flights on the disputed routes between Sydney and Griffith, and Melbourne and Merimbula.

Rex also continued with its plans to launch flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and then extended its capital city network to include the Gold Coast and Adelaide.

Last week, in a significant intervention, the ACCC backed Qantas’ decision to launch new flights on previous Rex-exclusive routes.

Speaking at a Senate committee, Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims said, “If Qantas has the aircraft, it’s incurring the fixed costs, it realises it can make a cash contribution by flying somewhere – it’s a bit hard to call that predatory.”

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