THE Flying Kangaroo’s stranglehold on the Tamworth to Sydney route may be about to be broken.
Regional Express (Rex) yesterday raised the spectre of going head-to-head with QantasLink in Tamworth for the first time, vowing to provide a fresh choice and force down ticket prices.
There’s just one catch – Tamworth Regional Council must waive the cost of security screening at the airport.
Under federal law, passengers on aircraft weighing over 20 tonnes must be screened for security purposes before boarding.
And despite the fact Rex’s Saab 340 planes weigh just 13 tonnes, council has warned Rex would be forced to pay the charges – which amount to about $10 a passenger – if it was to service Tamworth.
Rex’s general manager of network sales and strategy Warrick Lodge said the security screening cost was a “deal breaker”.
“We would be very interested in coming to Tamworth,” Mr Lodge said.
“But we wouldn’t accept any requirement to pay security charges because our passengers do not legally require screening.”
Mr Lodge said if council did reverse its decision, the airline would also consider taking on the vacant Tamworth to Brisbane route.
But TRC general manager Paul Bennett refused to back down, saying council would be forced to spend ratepayers’ money on upgrading the terminal to provide an “unscreened” entrance.
“Rex are saying they want to come in and have an advantage, meaning it wouldn’t be a level playing field,” Mr Bennett said.
“Why should ratepayers subsidise Rex so they can provide cheaper priced tickets than QantasLink?
“We provide a sterile security area at the airport which all passengers must pass through; we can’t say to one airline you must pay and say to another you don’t.
“If Rex don’t want to pay the charges, they can just build it into their ticket price.”
Favouring Rex, he said, could result in QantasLink pulling out of the local market, adding passengers on its Dash 8 QF300 aircraft, which also fell under the 20 tonne limit, still paid security screening charges.
Mr Lodge said as a high volume, low margin carrier, Rex averaged as little as $9 profit per passenger, meaning the screening charges could jeopardise its business model.
He said a number of airports, including Albury, Wagga and Port Lincoln, provided both screened and unscreened areas to allow Rex to operate without paying “unfair” charges.
“We believe we can grow the market and provide a very reliable service and bring the same competitive advantages to Tamworth as we have to Armidale,” he said.
“The law doesn’t require us to screen passengers so why should we pay for it?”
Rex re-launched flights from Armidale to Sydney last week, sparking a ticket price war with QantasLink.