Rex Keeps Up Qantas Fight While Facing Fresh Competitive Threats

Australian airline Regional Express (Rex) has indicated it is exploring fresh legal options as it continues to accuse larger competitor Qantas of anti-competitive behavior, including capacity dumping and predatory practices. At the same time. Rex finds itself dealing with a new competitive threat in North Queensland.

Rex says it is exploring new legal options in its long-running brawl with Qantas. Photo: Rex

Rex keeps up the rhetoric in a long-running dispute

As Simple Flying has previously reported, Rex has a longstanding issue with Qantas. Using inflammatory rhetoric and making some over-the-top claims, Rex has accused Qantas of trying to push it off routes and punishing the smaller airline for trying to compete.

Rex has already complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about Qantas. On Tuesday, Rex said it was seeking advice on additional legal actions. Rex did not say what legal options it was interested in.

Long content to fly Saab 340s between capital cities and regional and rural airports, Rex launched Boeing 737 flights on several interstate airline routes in March, including the all-important Sydney – Melbourne sector. In normal times, this route is a money-making machine for Qantas. Now the route is in the doldrums and all of Rex’s 737 flights are suspended.

On Tuesday, Rex accused Qantas of dumping an extra 80% capacity onto the route in March – just when Rex launched onto the route. Rex also repeated allegations Qantas has tried to “intimidate” Rex by commencing services into nine regional routes in competition against Rex. According to Rex, these routes, which Rex had enjoyed sole operator status on were already marginal for one carrier and unviable for two airlines to compete on.

“We have no idea what Rex is talking about and we’re starting to think Rex might not know either;” a Qantas spokesperson told Simple Flying today.

Referring to the uptick in flights between Sydney and Melbourne, the spokesperson said;

“Flights increased because Melbourne was in lockdown for part of February, so demand rebounded in March restrictions were lifted. Rex’s argument is the equivalent of going to a major intersection when it’s quiet and then complaining when it starts to get busy.”

All of Rex’s Boeing 737 services are currently suspended. Photo: Rex

An emerging side brawl for Rex

Meanwhile, another enemy airline has moved onto Rex’s radar. Cairns-based Skytrans plans to bid for a Queensland Government contract to operate government-subsidized routes across North Queensland. Rex currently has the contract but it is up for renewal in 2022.

In a pleasant piece of irony, Rex finds itself the bigger player having to deal with a smaller competitor. Skytrans has some influential backers who say Rex’s service on these particular routes are not up to scratch.

As reported in The Australian, Queensland MP Robbie Katter said standards had dropped on these routes while complaints had increased. He said flights sometimes skipped towns if they were running late, with the airline blaming kangaroos on the airstrip as the cause. Mr Katter also said Rex was invisible as a corporate citizen in North Queensland.

Skytrans flies a fleet of De Havilland Dash 8-100s and Cessna 208B Grand Caravans. Local rugby league icon Johnathan Thurston is one of Skytrans’ co-owners, significantly contributing to the airline’s profile and support in that part of the world.

Skytrans owners Peter Collings (left) and Johnathan Thurston (right) want to bid for Rex’s government contracts next year. Photo: Skytrans

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Lots of local support for Skytrans

Rex’s John Sharp says his airline has conducted its Queensland flights in “an exemplary manner.” In shades of the inflammatory language used by Rex in their brawl with Qantas, Mr Sharp accuses Robbie Katter of tarnishing Rex’s reputation “through baseless allegations.” In the absence of “concrete evidence”, Rex’s Deputy Chairman wants an apology from the MP for daring to suggest their service on Queensland government-subsidized routes is less than stellar.

The emerging Rex/Skytrans contretemps makes a welcome distraction from the bigger Rex/Qantas brawl. Whereas people may shrug and say Qantas is big enough to take care of itself and Rex is picking a fight it cannot win, Skytrans’ strong local support in Queensland and lengthy track record there suggests Rex might have a fight on its hands in Queensland as well. With Thurston waving the flag for Skytrans, the smart money might favor that airline.