Australian domestic carrier, Regional Express (Rex) has announced an increase in the number of weekday flights between Orange and Sydney from four return services to five, from 29 January 2018.

The increase will see a total of 58 weekly services between Orange and Sydney which represents almost 18,000 additional seats a year.

Warrick Lodge, Rex general manager network strategy and sales said the decision to offer additional services was “not without its risk” as there are currently 55,000 annual passengers for the 100,000 annual seats that will be available.

Rex will begin negotiations with Orange City Council to enter into a partnership agreement, which Lodge believes would ensure the additional services are sustainable and that fares could become lower while ensuring the revenue to Council is maintained.

“This partnership framework has been demonstrated to be highly successful in the dozens of collaborations Rex has with the various local councils,” said Lodge, adding: “A good case in point is the partnership with Parkes Shire Council where the partnership framework is delivering $99 fares between Parkes and Sydney to the benefit of the Parkes community and surrounding region. Rex is also working with Parkes Shire Council to deliver additional flights for the upcoming Elvis Festival which illustrates what can be achieved in the spirit of true partnership”

Facing the pilot shortage

Warrick Lodge said: “The increased services, as well as the allocation of scarce Sydney Airport slots that go with it, represent a significant commitment by Rex to the Orange community, especially at a time when the whole of Australia is facing a massive pilot shortage.”

Last week, Peter Dutton, minister of home affairs announced that visa regulations would be relaxed to allow foreign pilots into Australia on two-year work visas.

While Rex welcomed the initiative as a positive step, they did not believe it would be enough to attract experienced commercial pilots, given the world-wide industry shortage.

Rex’s chief operating officer Neville Howell said: “No experienced commercial pilot is prepared to relocate themselves and their families to Australia, with the expectation of having to relocate again after only two years. Even with the possibility of a further two-year extension, the program will not be attractive given that Australian pilot salaries are not internationally competitive. Only the pathway towards Permanent Residency could be potentially attractive to those seeking a work-life balance, however, this pathway is closed under the current regulations.”

He added that the tighter regulations enacted in April “caused havoc on Australian airlines” with many carriers, including Rex, experiencing a doubling of cancellation rates in the past six months due to the pilot shortage.

Howell continued: “Rex is the only airline in Australia that has its own pilot academy and we have invested over $35 million to ensure our own pipeline of pilots to meet our crewing needs. Even then, we still had to supplement this with recruitment drives over the years in the UK, South Africa and USA. Rex speaks with good authority when we say that the need for good experienced pilots cannot be met locally.”