Australia’s Rex has cleared the final hurdle ahead of the March launch of its jet services between Sydney and Melbourne. This week, the airline received a high capacity air operator’s certificate from Australia’s aviation safety watchdog, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Rex says it is now good to go with its trunk route jet services.
Upgraded planes need an upgraded air operator’s certificate
Rex has always had an air operator’s certificate. The airline has been flying since 2002 when Hazelton Airlines and Kendall Airlines were purchased, amalgamated, and rebranded. Since then, Rex has stuck to operating 36 seat Saab 340s. That saw REX squeak under the 38 seat threshold imposed by CASA that required a high capacity air operator’s certificate.
But now Rex is picking up some former Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800s. They needed that upgraded certificate. A CASA proving flight was scheduled in early December, other requirements were met, and Rex now has the green light.
The airline is on track to launch services on the busy Sydney – Melbourne route on March 1, 2021. Rex’s website is now selling tickets. The first scheduled departure is from Melbourne at 07:00 on March 1. Business class seats have sold out, but economy class seats are available on that flight. There are a further four flights to Sydney on that day. Rex has five flights to Melbourne scheduled on its first day from Sydney, with tickets still available for the first departure at 07:10. By the end of March, Rex has nine flights a day running in each direction.
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A competitive tussle looms
Local travelers are keeping a keen eye on how Australian domestic aviation’s biggest shakeout in two decades unfurls. Over the years, there have been a few attempts to do what REX is doing, and all have failed. But for all its folksy image, there’s smart money and hardened aviation industry professionals behind Rex. Rex has never had a reputation for wasting money.
While neither Qantas nor its low-cost subsidiary, Jetstar, appear unduly concerned about any competitive threat posed by Rex, Virgin Australia is eyeing the upstart more nervously.
Virgin Australia’s CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka (a former Jetstar CEO and Qantas alumni), has flagged a robust response to Rex’s incursions onto its turf. Both Virgin Australia and Rex are pitching their product towards the same market. Virgin Australia is vulnerable after a period in administration. While Virgin Australia is gradually getting its act back together, the airline alienated a sizeable percentage of its loyal customer base by not refunding tickets and generally letting the Virgin Australia product run down. That customer base is ripe for the picking by Rex.
Meanwhile, Rex is due to take six former Virgin Australia 737-800s. So far, Rex has only received one of the six 737-800s it has coming. That aircraft, VH-VUF, had spent some time parked at Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2 and was sighted there by this writer a week ago. VH-VUF has also made a couple of trips to Melbourne since Rex receiving it in November. However, in the last week, the plane has relocated to Rex’s Wagga maintenance base for a spruce up and rebranding into Rex’s colors.
Rex has told Simple Flying today that they expect a second Boeing 737-800 before Christmas, two more mid-February, and another two in mid-March.