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In pictures: Australian Aviation flies Rex’s Melbourne–Canberra debut

written by Adam Thorn | June 25, 2021
The Rex 737-8FR, VH-RQC msn 33797, departed Melbourne at 140pm on 24 June as flight ZL618 and landed in Canberra at 225pm (Victor Pody)
Victor Pody was on board the service that was due to launch on 10 June, and marks Rex’s debut on the route.

Australian Aviation photographer Victor Pody was onboard Rex’s first flight between Melbourne and Canberra on Thursday, capturing these images.

The Rex 737-8FR, VH-RQC msn 33797, departed the Victorian capital at 1:40pm on 24 June as flight ZL618 and landed in the ACT at 2:25pm.

The service has been repeatedly delayed from its initial 10 June launch due to Melbourne’s fourth lockdown and subsequent movement restrictions, but will now add 200,000 seats annually to the route already serviced by Virgin and Qantas.

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The airline’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said, “Today’s commencement of Rex flights between Melbourne and Canberra with our $69 fares demonstrates our determination to drive down the cost of air travel and grow markets despite the most challenging of times.

In May, Rex branded Virgin “a weak competitor” and accused Qantas of ripping off customers when it announced it would fly the service.

Qantas disputed Rex’s words, telling Australian Aviation, “Rex has once again shown they’re unable to use a calculator with Qantas return fares for the June long weekend available from less than half of the price they’ve quoted. Unlike Rex, we welcome competition on the routes we fly.”

Rex’s new route marks yet another escalation in the war of words between the three national airlines, which have for months been launching services to destinations previously exclusive to each other.

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Earlier this week, Rex said it would welcome the increased scrutiny” the ACCC is “bringing to bear” on Qantas and Virgin over capacity increases.

The regional airline was referring to a line in last week’s ACCC report into market share, in which the competition commission confirmed it was assessing the impact of Virgin and Qantas increasing capacity on routes.

The argument between the airlines has previously seen the flag carrier’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, mock Rex’s “empty aircraft” and Rex deputy chairman John Sharp argue that he doesn’t know how Joyce can “look at himself in the mirror some mornings”. Qantas has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

The dispute began in February when Rex accused Qantas of uncompetitive behaviour by launching rival services on its previously exclusive routes such Melbourne–Merimbula and Melbourne to Wagga Wagga.

Despite the argument, the flag carrier ploughed on, and Rex itself continued with its own plan to launch capital city routes.

“Rex’s idea of competition is that it’s something that happens to other people, because they believe they have an enshrined right to be the only carrier on some regional routes,” Qantas said.

Rex’s capital city expansion has included flights to CanberraGold Coast and Adelaide, as well as Sydney and Melbourne.

In April, Joyce and Sharp exchanged withering newspaper columns about each other in the AFR.

“It’s a well-known fact in the industry that Rex has now chalked up another dubious honour,” wrote Joyce. “It has presided over the worst launch of a new jet airline in Australia’s aviation history, with empty aircraft and announced routes that have never been flown.”

It came after Sharp wrote that Joyce was a hypocrite for going “cap in hand” to the federal government for help.

Finally, on the Australian Aviation podcast, Sharp claimed Joyce sees himself as a “wizard” but is actually failing his staff, customers and shareholders.

“Qantas has got this arrogant approach that we’re too big to fail and that we’re an icon,” said Sharp. “We play We Still Call Australia Home in the cabin to remind people that we’re the Australian airline. They call themselves a national carrier, but they’ve been privatised. They’re this big bully.”

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