The Queensland government has extended its contract with Qantas to service the regional Queensland communities of Longreach, Barcaldine and Blackall for an additional five years.
Dubbed Central Route 2, the route connects Blackall, Barcaldine and Longreach with Brisbane, and forms one of seven regional routes that are regulated by the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.
It comes after rival Rex was awarded the contract for Central Route 1, which connects the regional towns of Roma and Charleville to the state’s capital of Brisbane, snagging the contract away from Qantas.
Winning the Longreach regional contract was crucial for Qantas, given that Longreach was one of the founding centres of the airline, and remains home to one of Qantas’ oldest hangars, and the Qantas Founders Museum.
The fate of the Longreach contract remained unconfirmed on Tuesday, when the Queensland government announced that Rex had been awarded six of the seven regulated routes, sparking concern that Qantas could have also lost Central Route 2 to rival Rex.
“We’re particularly pleased to be able to continue to serve Longreach and the central west region which is home to Qantas and so much of our history, as well as the Qantas Founders Museum,” said QantasLink CEO John Gissing.
“We know how important accessible air travel is for regional Australia and we look forward to continuing to work with these communities and support them with regular flights and discounted fares for residents.”
Qantas notably lost out the Charleville-Roma-Brisbane route to Rex, following community concern after Qantas cut down weekend services to Charleville, greatly impacting the local community.
In August, the mayor of Murweh Shire Council – of which Charleville is the largest town – Shaun Radnedge said the move was particularly painful given that the airline’s very first route was a mail run between Charleville and Cloncurry, originating in November 1922.
“To be a part of that history and to be treated the way we are at the moment is very disappointing,” Cr Radnedge said, “It’s pretty poor form.”
At that time, Cr Radnedge said he had already lobbied the Department of Transport and Main Roads to take QantasLink’s handling of Charleville flights into consideration when awarding the next contract for the flight route.
“We’re getting to the pointy end of the tender process,” Cr Radnedge said. “[I want] everyone that has involvement in this, has a clear picture moving forward of what the expected service is to be to these regional areas, and be able to deliver them.”
It comes as Qantas prepares to ramp up operations throughout Far North Queensland, adding additional flights to its Cairns-Townsville, Townsville-Mackay and Cairns-Horn Island services.
The airline will also resume direct flights from Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport to Sydney with 12 flights per week from 14 February, and increase direct flight connections between Brisbane and snow season locations such as Albury and the Snowy Mountains.
Meanwhile, rival Rex is also increasing its footprint in Queensland.
Speaking at the Rex AGM on Wednesday, deputy chairman John Sharp said, “We also have plans to further expand the domestic network next year with a particular focus on major Queensland regional centres and holiday destinations.”
In addition to the Charleville-Roma-Brisbane route, Rex was awarded five other routes under Queensland’s regulated regional air transport scheme, to be serviced by the carrier’s fleet of Saab 340s.
- Northern Route 1 from Townsville to Winton to Longreach and return;
- Northern Route 2 from Townsville to Hughenden to Richmond to Julia Creek to Mount Isa and return;
- Gulf Route from Cairns to Normanton to Mornington Island to Burketown to Doomadgee to Mount Isa and return;
- Western Route 1 from Brisbane to Toowoomba (Wellcamp) to St George to Cunnamulla to Thargomindah and return; and
- Western Route 2 from Brisbane to Toowoomba (Wellcamp) to Charleville to Quilpie to Windorah to Birdsville to Bedourie to Boulia to Mount Isa and return.