Councils blindsided by shock airline shutdown
REGIONAL Express Airlines is the latest victim of coronavirus, with the company announcing it will cease all operations in Queensland from tomorrow.
The airline, which runs Regular Public Transport (RPT) routes connecting 25 towns and cities, confirmed that from April 1, it will be shutting down its routes, despite pleading with the state government for assistance.
In a statement, the company said it was blindsided by the unexpected event of the coronavirus pandemic, and the massive drop in passengers as a result.
"Rex first requested consideration from the Queensland Government on 19 March 2020 and
has since then made numerous appeals," the statement read.
"In the meantime, Rex's financial position and cash flow has seen a further sharp degradation due to the spectacular drop of patronage arising from travel being limited to essential travel only, as well as the border control measures being implemented across Australia.
"While the Federal Government has announced several assistance packages for airlines, no
concrete details have been forthcoming and more importantly, not a single cent has been
"Further, the Federal Government is only funding a minimum essential service of
one return weekly flight per route, and this reduced schedule approach was rejected by the
Queensland State Government.
"With cash fast running out and no immediate prospect of a workable solution from the
Queensland State Government, Rex has no choice but to declare a Force Majeure event for
the Contract and suspend all services on Queensland regulated routes indefinitely until it has
the ability to service the contract in a commercially viable manner."
In southwest Queensland, Rex operates two major routes, connecting Charleville, Quilpie, Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and St George to Brisbane.
Air travel is more than a luxury in the region, it is an essential service, and the sudden shutdown has been a shock for the small towns which depend on Regional Express.
"We (Paroo Shire) were a bit taken aback this morning to learn that REX have made the decision to cease flying in QLD," Paroo Shire acting CEO Sean Rice said.
"This airline provides an essential service to our community in Paroo Shire, particularly to support the medical needs of our community members and elderly who are required to travel to larger centres for treatment."
Despite the shock, Mr Rice is trying to remain hopeful that this won't be the end of their twice weekly return service.
"Council is hopeful that this is a short term closure by the airline whilst the company secures its financial arrangements, and that they will be back flying again soon," he said.
"We would urge any person in a position that assists REX in getting back into the air to do so immediately for the safety and well being of the residents of Paroo Shire and the rest of Regional QLD."
Rex also operates routes in the north and central west, as well as far north Queensland.
In the central west shire of Diamantina, the airline's service connecting the region to Mt Isa and Brisbane is a vital lifeline.
The local council has made many efforts to keep the service coming to their towns, at an expense to them, and the loss will be devastating, according mayor Geoff Morton.
"The Diamantina Shire Council is extremely disappointed with the announcement of REX airlines issued today advising it would suspend flying the subsidised RPT routes in Queensland," Cr Morton said.
"The twice weekly Brisbane-Mt Isa flights are an essential service to outback towns like Birdsville and Bedourie, and they shouldn't be put at risk.
"While passenger numbers may be down, a significant amount of vital freight is transported including mail, medical and pharmacy supplies for our health clinics and pathology samples,
potentially including COVID-19 tests, being sent out to a Brisbane laboratory for testing.
"It is also the way patients are transported to/from medical appointments in larger centres through Qld Health.
"The Diamantina Shire Council has supported REX Airlines since it commenced the RPT
service with no landing fees being charged and free use of the airport terminals at Birdsville and Bedourie.
"Council also stepped in to do the ground handling at Bedourie when REX couldn't find anyone else to do it. Council has nothing more it can give.
"Council urges REX airlines and the Qld Government to resolve this matter urgently so that residents of remote Queensland can continue to have access to services which, for the majority of other Queenslanders, are just around the corner."