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Unclear: Rex to continue servicing Grafton

Geoff Helisma Page MP Kevin Hogan has “welcomed the announcement that the Regional Aviation Network Support (RANS) program has been extended until 30 September 2021”. Mr Hogan made the declaration in a 66-word media release. “This program provides support to airlines to maintain a level of connectivity across their network of regional routes – including Lismore and Grafton,” he said. “Regional Express (Rex) currently receives support through this program, they wanted this program extended, it has been.” Rex announced it was ceasing its Grafton/Lismore/Sydney services on February 22. Rex accused Qantas of anticompetitive behaviour, for its decision to stop servicing five regional routes – Sydney to: Bathurst, Cooma, Lismore, Grafton and Kangaroo Island. “Qantas is making record losses during COVID and has received an estimated $1.2 billion in Commonwealth assistance to stay solvent but, despite this, feels it is appropriate to use taxpayers’ funds to finance the losses on new services whose sole objective is to weaken the competitor,” Rex’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said at the time. Meanwhile, the Independent asked Rex for clarification or details of any changes to its current RANS arrangement, which expires on March 31, a spokesperson said there was “no comment at this stage”. “We’re waiting to meet with the department of aviation,” he said, “to just ensure the details of the RAN extension.” The Independent asked Clarence Valley Council’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, via emailed questions: What is CVC’s plan over the six-month extension of the government’s Regional Aviation Network Support program, to maintain the Lismore and Grafton services: Will it continue with the decision made at the February CVC meeting, to “commence negotiations urgently with Lismore City Council to develop a proposal to find a replacement airline service for the Sydney/Grafton/Lismore and return route”? If not, what is the plan now? Mr Lindsay did not accept the Independent’s invitation to speak directly and responded via email on Friday March 12: “I have contacted REX to see whether they are going to continue their services into Grafton/Lismore beyond the end of March, now that the RANS program has been extended for a further 6 months. “No response from REX yet.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the RANS extension in a March 11 media release, which announced the Australian Government’s $1.2 billion support package to fund “800,000 half-price airfares to get Australians travelling and supporting tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines who continue to do it tough through COVID-19, while our international borders remain closed”. “This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard,” the Prime Minister said. “Our tourism businesses don’t want to rely on government support forever; they want their tourists back. “This package, combined with our vaccine roll-out, which is gathering pace, is part of our National Economic Recovery Plan and the bridge that will help get them back to normal trading.” The RANS program began on March 28, 2020 – it “provides shortfall subsidies to maintain a minimum level of connectivity on over 100 regional routes”. “The Airservices Australia fee waiver provides a 50 per cent reduction in air services charges for domestic regular public transport and aeromedical operations.”