PRESSURE is mounting on Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) to reverse a decision blocking Regional Express (Rex) from entering the local market.
Rex management this week revealed it was “very interested” in going head-to-head with QantasLink on the lucrative Tamworth-Sydney route but only on the condition TRC waive the $8.50 a head security screening charge.
Council has refused to exempt Rex from the charge, despite the fact under federal law passengers on planes weighing less than 20 tonnes – such as Rex’s Saab 340s – are not required to be screened.
Regular flyers have urged council to allow the exemption, saying a second carrier would help drive down ticket prices.
A comparison of flight prices to Sydney from Tamworth and Armidale next week reveals how true that is.
On Wednesday, the cheapest one-way flight from Tamworth is $360, while passengers can fly for just $104 from Armidale, which recently welcomed Rex as a second carrier.
Tamworth Centrepoint owner Andrew Richardson, who travels from Sydney to Tamworth on a monthly basis, said it routinely cost him close to $1000 for a same-day return ticket with QantasLink.
“It’s just ridiculous, you can fly to Bali and back cheaper,” Mr Richardson said.
“It’s a classic monopoly and we desperately need competition.”
Mr Richardson has written to QantasLink management urging them to reconsider the high fare structure.
TRC general manager Paul Bennett this week claimed to scrap screening fees for Rex would give the airline an unfair advantage over QantasLink.
He also rejected calls for council to build a special “unscreened” departure area for Rex passengers.
Tamworth real estate agent Richie Thornton said council should do “everything in its power” to allow Rex into the market.
“Compare what we pay to any other place in Australia and you can see it’s gotten out of control,” Mr Thornton said.
“What other business in town doesn’t have a competitor?
“I had a client come from Sydney recently to inspect a property and he had to pay $867 - how bad is that for the town?”
But TRC councillor and Tamworth Business Chamber president Tim Coates claimed if Rex wanted to compete, they had to do so under the same conditions as Qantas.
“We need competition but we need it on a level playing field,” Mr Coates said.
“If Rex wish to fly here, they should pay the same fees as Brindabella, Virgin and QantasLink.
“As it is, we are a secure airport and it would cost ratepayers a lot of money to create another departure area.
“It’s not fair to expect the general public to subsidise those that do travel.”
He urged Rex management to absorb the fee and build it into their ticket price.