Qantas looks set to reignite its long-running row with Rex over network expansion after announcing it would help fill the gap left by the smaller airline’s exit from Whyalla.
From 1 July, the Flying Kangaroo will add four extra services to and from the SA city. It follows Rex’s decision to pull out when the council declared it would pass on the cost of security screening to airlines.
Qantas’s rivalry with Rex began when the smaller carrier launched capital city services with a new fleet of 737s, and Qantas apparently responded by flying on tiny Rex-exclusive routes.
The argument led to Alan Joyce mocking Rex’s “empty aircraft” while Rex deputy chairman John Sharp questioned how his counterpart could “look at himself in the mirror some mornings”. Qantas has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
QantasLink currently flies to Whyalla six days per week using de Havilland Dash-8 Q300 aircraft, with no flights on Saturdays, while Rex flies at least daily on Saab 340s.
The changes mean The Flying Kangaroo will add four extra services to and from Whyalla on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Mayor Phill Stone thanked Qantas for adding the extra services and said they would be important to help grow the city’s hydrogen industry after it was highlighted as a key hydrogen location by the federal government.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to fill the gaps in service, so we are working extensively with the broader airline industry to explore options to help minimise the impact of Rex’s decision,” he said.
“In order to cater the hydrogen industry, we will need to develop a state-of-the-art airport and relationships with operators willing to play a key role in building our nation while sharing our vision of a more secure, safer, cleaner future for regional communities like Whyalla.”
Rex announced this month it was pulling out of its Adelaide–Whyalla route from 1 July after Council made the move to pass on the cost of airport security screening to airlines, which is estimated to raise ticket prices by around $40. Council said this was due to the federal government’s decision to stop funding screening operations.
Rex’s general manager of network strategy, Warrick Lodge, slammed the decision as “devious and underhanded”, saying Council is “forc[ing] Rex to subsidise the security screening costs of Qantas whose services are legally required to be screened”.
“The significant additional security cost makes the Whyalla to Adelaide route unviable for Rex, and as a result of Council’s decision, Rex has no option but to exit,” he said.
According to Mayor Stone, Whyalla Council has reached out to the Department of Home Affairs to see if the airport can be reconfigured to service both screened and unscreened passengers as per Rex’s suggestion.
“Providing a two-tiered, screened-and-non-screened service from our airport feels counterintuitive to the Federal Government’s mandate to improve national airport security. However, we will invite the Department of Home Affairs to review this option and can then consider funding options if it’s deemed possible,” he said.
“We are also open to ongoing discussions with Rex if they choose to reengage with us.”
Council is also lobbying the government for a national security levy, Mayor Stone added:
“This would see the cost of security screening shared across all air travel – adding about 75 cents to each flight nationally – as opposed to the current model that makes regional travel disproportionately more expensive.”
A Rex spokesperson referred Australian Aviation to an earlier statement, which said the airline “will not rule out resuming services if Council invites Rex back under the right operating conditions”. Qantas has also been contacted for comment.