Rex has threatened to make Armidale, NSW, “last in line” to see its services again amid a spat with its state MP.
Adam Marshall, Nationals member for Northern Tablelands, accused Rex of breaking a “public commitment” to return to Armidale next month after the airline announced that services between Sydney and the northern NSW city would not resume until at least October.
Rex last week extended cuts to its regional services, which had been due to end in late March, until 27 October, citing supply chain issues from COVID-19.
“I’m angry but not surprised that Rex has not honoured its promise to return air services to our community and region,” said Marshall.
“Rather than offer up warm platitudes and more false hope, I’d much prefer Rex just be upfront with the community be honest about its future here. If you’re not coming back, just say so – don’t keep jerking our chain, on a promise.”
The MP said Rex’s original justification for suspending Sydney-Armidale, namely pilot shortages, was suspect as the airline had continued to expand domestic jet operations.
“Clearly Rex does have surplus pilots, as I’m sure these additional intercity flights and planes aren’t flying themselves,” he said.
“It appears to our community that Rex is expanding its high-traffic intercity routes, at the expense of vital regional services. I certainly hope that Rex does return to our region once more, but the harsh reality is, the longer the period without services, the less chance of them resuming.
“I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I fear that looking at my miniature Rex plane model might be the closest I ever get to seeing the real thing sitting on the Armidale Regional Airport tarmac.”
In a fiery press release, Rex chairman Lim Kim Hai hit back, accusing Marshall of grandstanding and saying that his “antics will now put Armidale last in line for any future resumption of Rex services”.
“If Mr Marshall is genuine about improving air services for his electorate, he could easily have picked up the phone and arranged a meeting to talk to us. Three months ago, I granted his request for a face-to-face meeting but he never showed up. It is interesting that now he is choosing to deploy a cheap political stunt for his personal agenda,” he said.
“Rex did not make any commitments to restart services. We have always been clear on the cause of the suspension of flights and that the resumption of services between Armidale and Sydney was subject to the situation improving.
“The situation has not improved and Rex has publicly announced that none of the cities affected by the 30 per cent reduction in Rex’s regional network will see their services reinstated at the end of March.”
In the same press release, Rex said the expansion of its 737-800 operations was a matter of “supply and demand”.
“Captains for regional services are next to impossible to find and Rex now has to resort to going overseas to recruit them, whereas there is still a supply within Australia of captains for domestic jet services. These pilots are trained and endorsed on different aircraft types,” the airline said.
“To suggest that Rex has a surplus of pilots or that Rex is expanding domestically at the cost of its regional operation is misleading and mischievous.”
Rex’s stoush with Marshall echoes a similar feud between the airline and Whyalla City Council last year after it pulled services to the regional SA city when the council refused to modify its airport terminal to support unscreened passengers.
Rex at the time praised Armidale for its decision to convert one of its airport’s three gates for unscreened services, thus allowing Rex’s and Link Airways’ sub-40-passenger flights to continue to operate without increased costs.
Marshall’s office has been contacted for comment.