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Regional Express [Rex] airline has threatened to discontinue servicing the Clarence Valley Regional Airport. Image: courtesy

Airport argy bargy escalates

Geoff Helisma |

An apparent impasse between Clarence Valley Council (CVC) and Rex Regional Express airline is threatening to leave the valley without a commercial air service.

A letter tabled at yesterday’s CVC meeting (after the Independent’s editorial deadline) flagged withdrawal of the service, pending quarterly reviews.

“In the event that Rex decides to withdraw from the Grafton route, Rex will provide Council with at least 3 months notice,” Rex’s general manager, Warren Lodge, wrote in a letter to CVC general manager Ashley Lindsay.

Mr Lodge was responding to a unanimous decision taken at the December CVC meeting, at which councillors agreed to a six-month trial of Rex’s “community fare proposal”, however, they declined to participate in promoting community fares.

Councillors decided to: “Inform Rex that Council is not in a position to promote the community fare initiative but remains supportive of the lower fare structure.”

At that meeting, councillors also decided that the passenger head tax for “community fares” would be levied “at the lower rate of $5 per head”, despite Rex’s request and the council officer’s recommendation to waive the head tax on community fares during a three-month trial.

The current agreement between CVC and REX levies $7 for the first 15,000 passengers and $5 per head thereafter.

Mr Lodge wrote in his letter: “Thank you for … informing Rex of Council’s reluctance to partner with Rex to provide affordable community fares that have been very successful in many regional communities serviced by Rex.

“In particular, Rex notes that Council is not prepared to do its part in promoting these fares locally within the community.

“As such, Rex is not able to proceed with Council’s counter proposal as we do not believe that Council truly appreciates the value of what Rex is offering.

“As a result of Council’s decision and the challenging operating climate, Rex is placing no obligation upon Council to continue with the agreed head tax arrangements for FY18 and FY19.

“Consequently, the Grafton air service will continue to be reviewed every 3 months to determine if the marginal returns continue to justify the allocation of Rex’s scarce resources and valuable airport slots.”

On the option of CVC seeking another provider, Rex has previously advised that it would take its “available air space entries into Sydney airport and redistribute these within the Rex network” and that “an alternate provider may not be able to offer early morning and late afternoon arrivals to, and departures from, Sydney airport”.

The community fare proposal pitched to councillors at the December 2017 meeting, priced the fare at $109 each way with: “10% to 30% of total seats … designated [as] community fares for sales outside of 30 days prior to departure, subject to the designated seats remaining available; all unsold seats within 1 day prior to departure [would] be designated as community fares; and, all other fare conditions [would be] as per the Rex Promo fare.”