By JOHN DOOLEY
IN a second sudden announcement, Regional Express Airlines (Rex) has confirmed it will no longer fly direct from Mildura to Sydney from October 27.
Rex had been running flights from Mildura to Sydney on most days of the week.
The announcement came on Wednesday, with Rex again citing increased Mildura Airport charges as the primary reason for the service cut, while also revealing a new five-year partnership with Griffith City Council that will see the airline maintain and expand its services.
In July this year, Rex announced that it was reviewing its services into Mildura on all routes as a result of cost structure changes at Mildura Airport, something airport management has strenuously disputed was a valid reason.
In response to Rex’s announcement, Mildura Airport Chair Peter O’Donnell said the airline’s decision to cut its service between Mildura and Sydney was disappointing, but not surprising.
“It’s not surprising because Rex has stated publicly that it is under great pressure due to Australia’s current pilot shortage, and I think that has been a major factor in Rex’s decision,” he said.
“It’s disappointing because it means people in Sunraysia will have reduced choice.
“We haven’t yet heard from Rex officially, so we’re not sure when they plan to stop offering this particular route. I suggest any concerned passengers get in contact with the airline and seek clarification.”
In July, Rex signalled that it was reviewing its services into Mildura due to increased charges at Mildura Airport, charges Mr O’Donnell said were justifiable and not excessive.
“For Rex, our proposed increase is about two dollars on a ticket. We kept it as low as possible – the same as half a cup of coffee – so the impact would be barely noticeable,” he said.
“I’m sure that everyone agrees that it is imperative that Mildura Airport continues to pay its own way. That means occasionally, and reluctantly, we have to increase costs like any other business.”
Member for Mallee Andrew Broad described Rex’s decision to cut the direct link to Sydney as an “appalling loss for the prosperity of our community” and that “Mildura Council has to share some responsibility for this.”
“For the Mayor to say that another commercial operator may take the route up is unrealistic, because getting a slot into Sydney airport is almost impossible and now we have lost that,” he said.
Mr Broad said Griffith has been able to strike a deal for a $129 ‘community airfare’ and yet Griffith is further from Sydney than Mildura is to Melbourne.
“It shouldn’t have been unreasonable for the Mildura Council to have been able to negotiate a similar deal for a special fare of around $125 between Mildura and Melbourne and to similarly make efforts to secure the Sydney route,” he said.
“This about making sure our inland cities are connected and here we are losing connections instead of gaining them.
“Under my new role as Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister I will be arranging to meet with Rex to ensure the future of regional services to and from Mildura.”
Responding to Mr Broad’s comments, Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel said that Council supports Mildura Airport in relation to its position on air services in our region and will continue to work with its board.