Rex has welcomed Armidale Regional Airport’s opening of an unscreened gate for its passengers as it ceases its route from Adelaide to Whyalla after 37 years.
The airline pulled out of Whyalla at the start of this month amid a stoush with the local council over passing on increased costs of security screenings to airlines.
It has, however, called Armidale Council’s approach of continuing to screen Qantas passengers while carrying out minor renovations to open the unscreened gate “enlightened”.
“This is the only way to ensure that passengers of airlines like Rex do not need to pay an additional charge to subsidise the screening cost of airlines using larger aircraft,” said Rex’s National Airports Manager, David Brooksby.
Announcing the new gate last month, 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.
In contrast, Whyalla Council made the move to pass on the cost of security screening at the city’s airport to airlines after the Government ended subsidies for screening at regional airports, instead of introducing a separate gate for unscreened passengers. Flights with fewer than 40 passengers, like Rex’s Saab 340 regional services, do not require screening.
In response, Rex announced it was ending services to Whyalla, slamming the council as “deliberately deceptive”.
“Whyalla Council foolishly wanted to curry favour with Qantas and refused to facilitate screened and unscreened departures although the terminal could easily accommodate this, but instead slugged Rex’s passengers with a security surcharge of about $40 to subsidise Qantas operations,” said Brooksby.
“Rex has received numerous appeals to reconsider its position on the Whyalla to Adelaide route. Rex feels the pain of the community as we have been with the constituents through thick and thin for almost 40 years. However, we have come to the conclusion that this current council has lost all credibility and we regrettably cannot provide our services in this environment.”
Qantas has since stepped in to fill the gap left by Rex’s exit from Whyalla, though Rex has taken the opportunity for a swipe at the Flying Kangaroo, with which the carrier has a long-standing rivalry.
“After a short, circumspect period of good behaviour, Qantas will revert to what it has always done when it has a monopoly,” said Brooksby.
“The Whyalla community only needs to look at the other ports where Qantas is the sole airline operator like Lord Howe Island to be certain what would be its fate ahead – fare gouging, reduced service and high cancellations.”