Regional Express is poised to break Qantas’ current monopoly on the Sydney-Canberra route with the launch of its own flights to the capital city starting 19 April.
The ambitious plan will match Qantas busy schedule with seven return Rex flights each day; fares will go on sale later this week from $99 one-way.
Rex is expected to begin Sydney-Canberra flights using its workhorse 33-seat all-economy Saab 340B turboprops, but with the scope to swap in the larger Boeing 737 jets – with eight seats in business class and 168 in economy – during the morning and afternoon peak hours according to demand.
This is the same approach adopted by Qantas, which flies a mix of Boeing 717 jets and Dash 8 turboprops.
Rex’s fresh presence at Canberra Airport will be complemented by the opening of its own lounge.
“Rex’s affordable fares will greatly stimulate more business and leisure traffic between Sydney and the national capital as the industry continues to recover,” says Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp, who added the airline’s schedule could exceed 10 return flights a day depending on passenger uptake.
“We believe that on the Sydney-Canberra route alone Rex will be bringing annual savings of between $60-$100 million to commuters when numbers return to pre-COVID levels, such is the level of fare gouging being practised.”
Sydney-Canberra is currently the exclusive domain of Qantas, with Virgin Australia having suspended its Sydney-Canberra services and earmarking the route as one to be flown by partner Alliance Airlines.
Qantas has shot back at Rex, saying that unlike the regional airline “we welcome competition on the routes we fly and we’re confident in the product we’re offering.”
“There has been strong competition on Sydney-Canberra until quite recently when Virgin pulled off as they went into administration. Our lead-in fares on the route haven’t changed since then and we’ve recently had sale fares for as low as $109.”
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has welcomed Regional Express as “a vote of confidence in this city.”
“We are delighted to be working closely with the airline and Canberra Airport through Visit Canberra to widely promote the new services and contribute to the growth of the route.”
Rex is drawing on a $150 million private equity ‘war chest’ to build out its Boeing 737 network, which launched on the Sydney-Melbourne route on March 1 and from the end of this month will bring the Gold Coast and Adelaide under its wing.
By Joe Cusmano