Rex has again announced that it will soon exit five regional routes, with possibly more to come, over Qantas’ “predatory” behaviour.
The carrier said it will withdraw all services from Bathurst, Grafton, Lismore, and Kangaroo Island on 30 June, when federal government subsidies under the Regional Aviation Network Support (RANS) program ceases.
The airline will also exit from Ballina two days later, on 2 July.
“Rex has faithfully serviced most of these routes for 20 years, and some of them for more than 30 years by Rex’s predecessors Kendell and Hazelton,” Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said in a statement on Monday.
“So it is with a really heavy heart that we have to announce the cessation of services in an effort to improve Rex’s financial performance.
“Qantas’ well-publicised predatory actions on Rex’s regional routes have meant that Rex no longer has the ability to cross-subsidise these regional routes.”
A Qantas spokesperson said Rex’s latest claims are “just ridiculous”, and added that “Rex’s standard approach whenever it withdraws from a route is to blame Qantas”.
Rex previously suggested it would cut these destinations from its network in March 2021, when government subsidies for regional routes was initially slated to end, again blaming Qantas for making the routes unprofitable. Qantas responded to the accusation by calling it a “classic Rex tantrum”.
It also comes after the carrier recently announced its departure from both Sydney-Canberra and Melbourne-Albury, and reignited a long-standing battle against rival Qantas over both airline’s network expansion into each other’s territory.
The fiery war-of-words has seen Qantas CEO Alan Joyce mock Rex’s “empty aircraft” while Rex deputy chairman John Sharp called Qantas’ moves “predatory”, and questioned how Joyce can “look at himself in the mirror some mornings”. Qantas has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
“It is unfortunate that these regional communities are the collateral damage of Qantas’ bullying and heartless behaviour,” Sharp said.
“This behaviour is more unconscionable after receiving over $2 billion in federal bailouts over the past two years.”
The tit-for-tat battle ramped up after Rex announced plans for its own grand entrance into capital city routes in 2020 on a fleet of second-hand Boeing 737s. The previously regional carrier took off on its first Melbourne-Sydney flight on 1 March 2021.
Then, in February 2021, Qantas took on eight separate routes that were previously exclusive to Rex: Sydney-Orange, Sydney-Merimbula, Sydney-Griffith, Melbourne-Merimbula, Melbourne-Albury, Melbourne-Wagga Wagga, Melbourne-Mount Gambier, Adelaide-Mount Gambier.
“Rex is always looking to blame others when it withdraws from regional routes, but none of its claims stack up to scrutiny,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
“Rex has a monopoly on three of these routes it’s abandoning, so if it can’t make them work, it has no-one else to blame but itself.”
They continued: “Rex says it doesn’t have the funds to cross subsidise these routes, but it doesn’t have a problem finding money to invest in more aircraft for its capital city 737 operations. That must be confusing for regional customers given Rex’s tagline is that their heart is in the country.
“Rex’s claims against Qantas have become so far-fetched, we had to create a dedicated page on our website to rebut them and update it on a fairly regularly basis as they cook up more weird conspiracy theories.”
Earlier this year, Qantas announced it would soon also begin operating two weekly return flights between Sydney and Broken Hill – a route that Rex has operated solely for 18 years.
Speaking with ABC Radio in February, Sharp accused Qantas of unnecessarily “swamping” the market but insisted Rex would adjust its operations as needed to compete.
Sharp suggested that Qantas was only moving into the Broken Hill route in order to “retaliate” at Rex’s decision in late 2020 to expand into the domestic capital city market, placing it in competition with Qantas.
“They don’t like that, and they’ve made lots of complaints to people about our behaviour in moving into that market. So, in retaliation, they’ve been moving into our regional market,” Sharp said.