‘Sweetheart deal’ refusal vindicated

TAMWORTH Regional Council’s (TRC) controversial decision to refuse a “sweetheart deal” with Regional Express (Rex) over security screening charges appears to have been vindicated.

Councillors scotched a move by Rex to challenge QantasLink on the Tamworth to Sydney route earlier this year by rejecting its demand to waive the $8.50- per-seat security screening charge.

Under federal law, passengers on planes under 20 tonnes – such as Rex’s fleet of Saab 340s – are not required to be screened.

But on May 27, councillors voted to maintain screening at Tamworth for all carriers amid concerns about security breaches and the prohibitive cost of constructing an “unscreened” departure area.

Dubbo Council, one of the only other regional councils in Australia to take a stand against Rex over security screening, last week won a long-running Land and Environment Court case brought against it by the carrier.

Justice Nicola Pain rejected Rex’s claim Dubbo Council had no power to impose the fee on the airline under the Local Government Act.

“If anyone had any doubt that airport operators were legally able to charge this fee, this is confirmation,” Tamworth mayor Col Murray said.

Cr Murray said TRC continued to look at ways to provide competition on the Tamworth to Sydney leg, over which QantasLink has a monopoly hold.

Meanwhile, he remained confident Skytrans would service the defunct Tamworth to Brisbane route in the coming months.

“Skytrans are the definite front-runners ... they’re the last man standing,” Cr Murray said.

“The only outstanding issue is the lack of check-in counter space for them at Brisbane Airport.”

He said while Skytrans had not yet signed to service the route, the company had held talks with council and the business community, and was “building a very sound business case”.

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