Regional Express (Rex) will leave the main Sydney – Canberra route this weekend, citing competition and Sydney Airport fares. Tuesday’s announcement follows Rex last week confirming it would be leaving the Melbourne – Albury route. The last Rex flights on both routes will start on Sunday, May 29.
Rex stops his second route in as many weeks
Rex flies the short sector of 147 miles (236 kilometers) in both directions three times a day (once a day on Saturdays) using Saab 340 turboprops with 34 seats. Also on the route are Virgin Australia (albeit with identical Link Airways Saab 340s) and QantasLink who use a combination of Dash 8-400 and Boeing 717-200 aircraft on the route.
Unlike Rex, Virgin Australia operates between seven and 11 flights in each direction on weekdays (but only four return flights are available on Saturdays). QantasLink owns the market. On the slowest day (Saturday), the airline operates nine return services on the route. On weekdays, QantasLink operates up to 21 round trips per day, including select rush hour flights on Boeing jets.
“We are proud to have brought much needed competition to the Sydney-Canberra route, and airfare has never been cheaper.said Rex Vice Chairman John Sharp AM.Unfortunately, with the arrival of an additional operator and the very high fares imposed by Sydney Airport from June 1, 2022, the route is no longer viable for Rex. The resources are being diverted to other routes that yield better returns.”
Rex started flying on the Sydney – Canberra route last year when QantasLink was the only opponent (pictured). Photo: Canberra Airport
Competiton beats Rex on the Sydney – Canberra route
Rex did not start flying on the Sydney – Canberra route until March 2021. It fitted well with the airline’s ambitions to connect Australia’s southeastern capitals. It was also an opportunistic game, with Virgin Australian then off the route and Qantas enjoying sole operator status. Rex’s cheaper fares gave the airline a difference, appealing to travelers who weren’t flying on taxpayers’ dime.
As Canberra is home to the Australian government, a very large proportion of travelers fly on routes to and from CBR for government business. Despite the lowest rate policy available, most of these flyers remain corroded by Qantas loyalists – a loyalty Qantas may very well retain. Virgin Australia (via Link Airways) recently re-entered the SYD-CBR market to break that Qantas focus. Flights into Canberra are reportedly fairly full. In 2019, the year before COVID-19 disrupted flights, more than 930,000 passengers flew the Sydney – Canberra city pair, making it the 17th busiest route in Australia.
Virgin Australia has contracted Link Airways to fly its Saab 340s on the Sydney – Canberra route, adding unwanted competition to Rex’s Canberra flights. Photo: Canberra Airport
Rex pays more for flying between capitals
Rex mainly flies its Saab turboprops on regional routes and Sydney Airport charges lower rates for regional flights. Despite the fact that the Sydney – Canberra route is operated with small aircraft, that route is considered a non-regional route between the capital cities and is subject to a higher cost. It’s an additional operational cost that all operators in the sector have to bear, but it seems that Rex no longer wants or can do this.
“Sydney Airport made a number of efforts to support Rex’s operations on the Sydney-Canberra route, and we made good progress in reaching an agreement,said a spokesperson for Sydney Airport.Rex’s suggestion that Sydney Airport is partially responsible for the route’s abandonment is disappointing and inaccurate.”
If we ignore the parking and runway charges, the cost per passenger at Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2 (where Rex is based) rises from AU$5.91 per passenger on a regional flight to $12.95 per passenger between capitals. Runway rates also change from $3.78 per 1,000 kilograms of aircraft maximum takeoff weight to $5.90 per paying passenger. These costs are not necessarily fixed, as Sydney Airport often makes deals with individual airlines.
Rex reports that affected passengers will be accommodated on other flights (Rex maintains its Canberra – Melbourne Boeing 737-800 flights) or will offer a full refund.