A BITTER dispute between Rex Airlines and aviation giant Qantas could play out in the city's favour.
Rex Airlines has its sights set on a Tamworth to Sydney route in retaliation to what it calls "aggressive, predatory behaviour" from Qantas after it muscled in on the regional market.
Competition has been slim at the airport after Virgin Australia pulled out six months ago and took a $30 million flight-training school with it in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) mayor Col Murray said the organisation is in talks with two airlines about establishing a second carrier service to Sydney.
"I understand that Rex is having an arm-wrestle with Qantas and that's between those two companies," he said.
"We have always been open to having discussions with Rex or any other airline."
Qantas has announced 26 new routes since the pandemic, eight of those are also operated by Rex.
Rex ruled out a Tamworth deal in September last year after a spat over $17.70 per person security screening charges.
We have always been open to having discussions with Rex or any other airline.Col Murray
Rex's aircraft size means it is not legally required to screen passengers, but the airport design means all flyers go through security.
QantasLink chief executive officer John Gissing called the regional airline's actions a "classic Rex tantrum".
"Rex's idea of competition is that it's something that happens to other people, because they believe they have an enshrined right to be the only carrier on some regional routes," he said.
"The fact is Rex is receiving millions of dollars in bespoke government assistance for its regional operations at the same time as it's acquiring new aircraft to fly between capital cities."
Rex Airlines did not respond to questions, but in a statement the company's deputy chairman John Sharp said it would start new services at airports Virgin had left where Qantas was the sole operator.
"Other routes under active consideration where Qantas is the sole or dominant carrier include Sydney to Tamworth, with 175,000 passengers pre-COVID," he said.
"We will be launching services to these cities once a partnership agreement is concluded with the local councils or airport owners."
The competition has started to heat up as February marks the second highest passenger numbers since COVID-19 hit airports in April last year.
Passenger numbers are still at about a quarter of the normal monthly average, with Qantas and Link Airways currently providing 21 services between Tamworth, Brisbane and Sydney each week.
History suggests that having two carriers lowers the cost to travellers, and Cr Murray said he would reconsider a deal with Virgin Australia now that it has partnered with Alliance Airlines.
"We are certainly hopeful that Virgin, through their partner Alliance, will return their schedule to Tamworth," he said.
"A second service is really important for things like our health specialists and consultants that come out of Sydney and Brisbane."
The state government's role is to support the council as it looks to increase it's transport services, Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said.
"That competition drives cheaper prices, cheaper fares, everyone wants to be able to get a good deal when they fly," he said.