Armidale Regional Airport in the NSW Northern Tablelands has set aside a gate for flights that fall beneath the government’s security screening threshold.
Gate 3 at the airport will handle all Rex and Link Airways flights with fewer than 40 passengers, which do not require security screening, after federal funding for screening processes at regional airports ends on July 1. Qantas passengers will continue to use the screened departure gate.
Armidale Mayor Sam Coupland said the airport has been “fortunate” with its new terminal to have been able to modify an existing area, and has said local ratepayers should not be made to subsidise national security screening costs.
“Other regional airports affected by the federal funding withdrawal have not been able to juggle the operational logistics as easily. Rex and Link Airways were offered the opportunity for their passengers to be screened, albeit this came at a cost,” he said.
“The fact that we have terminal space and maintain good working relationships means we were able to accommodate their needs, arriving at an outcome that secures a competitive market for air travel in our region and in turn, minimises any reduction in services or increase in costs to passengers.”
Mayor Coupland has criticised the government’s move to end the funding, saying it places an undue cost burden on small regional airports.
“Because the Federal Government is no longer subsidising the security program, airports like ours, servicing smaller travelling populations are at a disadvantage. This approach becomes difficult as the cost of operating screening services is borne by a relative few compared to metropolitan ports,” he said.
“If costs are ultimately passed onto the traveling community, it means proportionately higher airfares for regional travellers and these proportions are way out of whack. It’s a cost that could ultimately affect demand for regional air travel and lead to a reduction in air services for many regional communities.”
The change at Armidale Airport comes a month after Rex announced it was dropping its services to Whyalla in South Australia, where the local council has made the decision to pass on increased screening costs to airlines.
Rex accused Whyalla Council in a statement of being “deliberately deceptive” and saying “a simple partition and minor renovations works” would have allowed screened and unscreened aircraft to depart from the same terminal. The airline added that security screening – which has been in effect at most regional airports for 11 years – had only begun at Whyalla 18 months ago when Qantas brought larger aircraft to the airport.
“Rex believes that Whyalla Council has lost all its credibility, and Rex will no longer engage with this present council,” the airline said.
Qantas has moved to fill the gap left by Rex at Whyalla, adding four extra weekly services to and from Adelaide.
Rex has been contacted for comment.