One of Regional Express's new 737 that will operate on the Sydney to Melbourne route. The airline will pull its service from Grafton and Lismore.
One of Regional Express's new 737 that will operate on the Sydney to Melbourne route. The airline will pull its service from Grafton and Lismore.

COFFS NEW AIRLINE: Rex leaves Grafton to take on Qantas

Coffs Harbour has scored another point in its sibling rivalry with Grafton to the north with news that airline Rex would move its Grafton flights to Coffs from April.

The announcement came as a shock to many this afternoon, with News Corp talking to the airline's media manager about flights from Grafton to Melbourne just hours before the decision was announced.

It is the second time Grafton has been abandoned by the airline within twelve months.

The company infamously withdrew its services from the airport after taking offence to comments made in a Clarence Valley Council meeting last year as it pledged relief for the airline.

This time, the company is blaming "aggressive predatory moves by Qantas into thin regional routes serviced by Rex" for the closure, and will cease services when Federal Government subsidies for the route end in March.

The airline has entered the competitive metropolitan domestic market from Sydney to Melbourne, and will start flying $48 flights between the cities from March 1.

The cuts will mean that Lismore airport will also lose its Regional Express service at the same time.

>>> HOSTILITY: Rex pulls out of Grafton over "words"

However, in a blow to regional rivalries, Regional Express will instead fly their North Coast service out of Coffs Harbour airport, where they will take on Qantas in airports that have been left as single carrier after the withdrawal of Virgin.

Rex will also continue to fly routes that Qantas has entered into, including routes to Orange, Merimbula and Griffith in NSW, and said because it is standing its ground on its existing routes it will be unable to continue subsidising marginal routes they have serviced for the past 20 years.

"It is with a heavy heart that we are announcing the cessation of services to (the routes including Grafton/Lismore) once the government support through the RANS program is discontinued at the end of March," Rex deputy chairman John Sharp said.

Member for Page Kevin Hogan said he would work with the councils to attract a new airline to the airports.

A REX flight arrives at Grafton airport.
A REX flight arrives at Grafton airport.

"Federal Government support through the Regional Airline Network Support (RANS) program is regularly reviewed and extended. There is a review of this program underway right now," he said.

"While the growing success of Ballina and Coffs has put pressure on Lismore and Grafton airports, we believe they are still commercially viable."

Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay agreed, and said that prior to COVID, numbers were much higher than they had been in the past 12 months, to the point he understood Rex was looking to increase its service into the airport.

"It's disappointing - we've worked closely with Rex over a number of years to support the service they provide," he said.

"They appear to be taking a different path with respect to entering into the metropolitan domestic market with flights from Sydney to Melbourne," he said.

Member for Page Kevin Hogan and Clarence Valley Council mayor Jim Simmons at announcement of Rex returning to Grafton airport last year.
Member for Page Kevin Hogan and Clarence Valley Council mayor Jim Simmons at announcement of Rex returning to Grafton airport last year.

Mr Lindsay said a mayoral minute will be on the agenda at the Clarence Valley Council meeting on Tuesday which will call on the Federal Government to support the airport through this decision and consider continuing with the subsidies that had been provided.

"If nothing comes of that, I think the council will call on me to follow up and seek out an alternative provider," he said.

Rex's move to Coffs Harbour comes as Qantas reinforced its offering to the airport, offering more flights direct to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and bolstering offerings from Ballina, with direct flights to Canberra offered.