CORONAVIRUS: Rex to cancel majority of Grafton flights
FLIGHTS into Grafton will be shutdown from April 6 with the announcement by airline Regional Express (Rex) they are shutting down their regular public transport service.
And there is a danger that once gone, many of the routes, including the one to Grafton may be lost forever.
The group have made a public campaign over the past week calling on both the Federal and State governments to help the airline during the current coronavirus.
They announced an initial cutback of Grafton services on Friday, with the 18 flights per week reduced to 11.
However, following an emergency Board meeting on Sunday March 22, they have announced that it will shut down its expansive Regular Public Transport (RPT) air services in all states, except in Queensland where the services are underwritten by the Queensland Government.
"Operations will cease with effect from 6 April 2020 unless the federal and state governments are willing to underwrite the losses," the statement reads.
"In addition to RPT services in Queensland, other activities of the Rex Group not to be affected include Ambulance Victoria fixed-wing air ambulance services, charter contracts with mining companies, freight services and pilot training at its pilot academies in Victoria and New South Wales.
Rex's deputy chairman, John Sharp said that they were supportive of the strong measures taken by the Federal and State Governments such as the shutting of State borders and imposing a lockdown within the States as well as discouraging all non-essential travel.
"These measures will definitely reduce the number of infections from COVID-19, prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and save many lives," he said.
"However, tragically for the airline industry, this means that we can expect the year-on-year reduction of passenger numbers to nosedive to around 80 per cent from the 60 per cent we are experiencing today.
"There is a tipping point in the airline business beyond which it will no longer be sustainable to operate reduced services.
"We believe that with only 20 per cent of our passenger numbers left we have reached that point and the Rex Group has decided that the quasi suspension of all services at this stage presents the best option to preserve its cash."
Mr Sharp said that the federal government had acted swiftly by promising a rescue package to the airlines of $715 Million.
However, Mr Sharp said the direct benefit to Rex from this package is only $1 million a month which is grossly insufficient to cover the $10 million a month they expect to lose running the heavily reduced schedule announced last week.
"Regional air services provide an invaluable and priceless contribution to the socio-economic wellbeing of local communities throughout regional and remote Australia. State and Local Governments should be leading the charge in extreme times like these to assist regional carriers rather than leaving it to the Federal Government," Mr Sharp said.
"So far the state governments have not tabled any concrete proposals although their latest decisions of closing the borders and lockdowns will simply further decimate what remains of regional air travellers.
"Local councils are also a true disappointment with only two councils having proposed any meaningful assistance for Rex.
"If an assistance package of sufficient magnitude and viability can be negotiated by the end of the week, Rex may be able to reconsider its plans to suspend services.
"Failure to achieve any traction in this regard will see regional communities lose their air services for many months ahead and even after this is all over, we are afraid that some of the more marginal communities will no longer have an air service."
Mr Sharp said passengers with bookings after April 6 must wait until after March 27 before writing in via Rex's website to put their bookings on credit for a future flight.
"No refunds will be offered as is the standard practice of all airlines during this crisis," he said.
Clarence Valley Council have been contacted for comment.