Rex Airlines has officially pulled out of servicing Clarence Valley Regional Airport following a recently turbulent relationship with Clarence Valley Council. (AAP/Emma Brasier)
Rex Airlines has officially pulled out of servicing Clarence Valley Regional Airport following a recently turbulent relationship with Clarence Valley Council. (AAP/Emma Brasier)

Turbulent timeline of Rex's Grafton departure and return

THE past few months have been turbulent for Clarence Valley Council and Regional Express Airlines, with Rex ceasing its service to Clarence Valley Regional Airport after its last flights on last Friday, July 3.

To understand how it came to this, take a look back at the timeline of events that saw Australia's largest regional airline outside the Qantas group takeoff from Grafton for the last time:

APRIL 30: Rex commits to Grafton airline route

Rex confirmed in April this year that it would run three return services a week on the Sydney to Grafton/Lismore route, with support from the Regional Airline Network Support program.

Announced by deputy PM Michael McCormack, the program provides assistance to regional airlines to maintain a minimal weekly schedule to regional and remote airports.

Under the revised grant guidelines, Rex was eligible to receive funding to operate between two and three return services a week to all destinations on the Rex network. Rex's application for the ports it wished to provide services to was approved and signed off on April 23, 2020.

The assistance was in response to falling revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a significant decline in passenger numbers.

Regional Express Airlines' Saab 340 aircraft. Photo Contributed
Regional Express Airlines' Saab 340 aircraft. Photo Contributed

MAY 21: Rex asks Council for more financial help

Following Clarence Valley Council's decision to waive head tax charges,Rex Airlines asked for more financial help when they approached council's general manager, Ashley Lindsay, for a $8908.90 credit note.

The letter from Rex's general manager corporate services Irwin Tan highlighted the predicament the airline was in due to coronavirus and asked for "one time support" as a "sign of solidarity".

"Rex, as is the case of all airlines in the world, is now fighting for its survival and doing all it could to wait out the crisis," the letter said.

"This will go a long way towards helping Rex to survive this crisis."

Rex assured council they would pay the full amount owing from February and March head tax charges, $17,817, within seven days of councils response and apply the credit note only to invoices in 2021.

JUNE 3: Councillor rips into Rex over $8900 credit note

Councillors agreed to give Rex more financial assistance, but not before one sensationally called for the airline to "pull their finger out".

While the motion to provide the credit note to Rex Airlines passed council 7-2, the request was too much for councillor Debrah Novak, who at the May 26 ordinary council meeting suggested the airline was "bleeding us dry".

Clarence Valley Councillor Debrah Novak
Clarence Valley Councillor Debrah Novak

"We are not in the business of bankrolling other big businesses … our job is to actually look after our ratepayers," she said.

"They need to pull their finger out."

Cr Karen Toms said the airline, while important to the Clarence, was vital to rural and regional towns across the state.

While she acknowledged there were some who opposed the financial support, Cr Toms said she took a "bigger picture" view, a view which was shared by the state government.

"If we lose our airline we will lose more services that may not be seen by some people who seem to think it is just a tourism destination airport, which of course it is not," she said.

JUNE 5: Rex pulls out of Grafton airport over 'hostility' from councillor

Following the May 26 council meeting, Rex Airlines made the announcement it would cease flying to Clarence Valley Regional Airport via a letter to Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay on Thursday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the airline confirmed the reason for the cancellation of the Grafton route was due to the comments made by councillors in a debate over whether they would provide a credit note for the airline.

Written by Rex Airports manager David Brooksby, the letter opens by thanking Clarence Valley Council for offering Rex a rebate of $8908.00.

"Please note however that given the hostility of the councillors in relation to this matter, and following the call for Rex to "pull their finger out", Rex will reject Council's offer. Full settlement has already been made last week," the letter said.

JUNE 10: 'Set aside differences': MP calls Rex loss a bitter pill

As the fallout from Rex Airlines' decision to cancel the Grafton service continued,Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis urged the airline and Clarence Valley Council to set aside their differences.

The decision by Rex Airlines to cease air services in and out of Clarence Valley Regional Airport was "devastating news for the community" according to Mr Gulaptis.

"REX has provided an invaluable air service to the communities of the Clarence Valley for many years," Mr Gulaptis said.

JUNE 11: Chamber of Commerce calls for united front

THE Grafton Chamber of Commerce wasted no time in attempting to keep Rex in the region as president Carol Pachos said now was the time for the community to band together and let Rex know how important the airline was for the region.

"We now have an excellent opportunity for Clarence Valley Council, the Grafton Chamber of Commerce and other key stakeholders to express the importance of Rex services, not just for Grafton but for the Clarence Valley," she said.

"The Grafton Chamber of Commerce are trying to work on initiatives to support local businesses and the impact of losing our regional flights is in direct opposition to everything we're fighting for."

JUNE 12: Rex fallout deepens as councillor slapped with code breach

Executive chairman of Regional Express Airlines Mr Kim Hai Lim. PICTURE: JUSTIN BRIERTY
Executive chairman of Regional Express Airlines Mr Kim Hai Lim. PICTURE: JUSTIN BRIERTY

Clarence Valley Council called an extraordinary meeting to deal with the fallout from Rex's shock decision to quit the region, with a report outlining correspondence between council GM Ashley Lindsay and Rex Airlines national airports manager, David Brooksby.

Mr Lindsay said the correspondence indicated Rex Airlines executive chairman Lim Kim Hai "took great offence to Cr Novak calling on Rex to 'pull their finger out'".

"Unless a public apology is provided by Cr Novak, he would not reconsider his decision for Rex to cease services to Grafton effective 3 July," Mr Lindsay said.

JUNE 16: Legal threat cancels council extraordinary meeting

Just days after Clarence Valley Council called an extraordinary meeting, a letter from solicitors representing Cr Debrah Novak saw the meeting scrapped.

Clarence Valley mayor Jim Simmons said the letter called for an injunction against holding the meeting because the matter should have been dealt with during the May meeting and not have been brought up at a separate meeting.

JUNE 25: Turbulent Rex debate recovers from chaotic start

Insults, accusations of character assassination and harassment plus a blizzard of points of order characterised two hours of fevered debate at Clarence Valley Council's latest meeting.

A report from the general manager on the decision of Rex Airlines to cease its Grafton to Sydney service from July 3 sought to authorise the mayor Jim Simmons to write to the airline apologising for ­"negative comments" made during debate at its May meeting.

After nearly two hours the council voted 8-1 for a resolution which would allow the mayor to advise Rex it regretted the negative comments made during the meeting and how vital its air service was to the region.

JULY 3: Last plane out of Grafton has gone

The mayor's letter to Rex Airlines fell on deaf ears, as on Friday, July 3, the airline followed through on its threats to terminate its service to Clarence Valley Regional Airport.

The end of Rex Airlines servicing Grafton comes as the airline announces it has plans to raise $30 million to launch flights from Brisbane to Sydney and Melbourne, putting it in direct competition with Qantas and Virgin.

JULY 5: Glimmer of hope after airline terminates service

After Rex Airlines officially pulled out of the Grafton route, council GM Ashley Lindsay revealed discussions were underway with another airline on the possibility of operating out of Clarence Valley Regional Airport.

"I touched base with FlyPelican CEO Marty Hawley on Friday and we've had some discussions on the process from here to engage them at Grafton," he said.

AUGUST 6: Clarence Valley's airport to fly again

A month after Rex Airlines terminated its Grafton service, a welcome announcement was made that flights would soon resume from Clarence Valley Regional Airport, as Rex airlines made the decision to recommence flights to the city from August 17.

Member for Page Kevin Hogan made the announcement at Clarence Valley Regional Airport in conjunction with mayor Jim Simmons.



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