Regional Express Airlines (Rex) yesterday announced changes to its flights within NSW that will, in its own words, ‘slash services’ to regional airports including Lismore and Grafton.
In fact, the news is not quite as bad as the airline’s own PR department would have it: both airports will retain their existing three return services to Sydney, Sunday to Friday, and two services on Saturday.
What will change is the routing of the aircraft: two of Lismore’s three daily services will now ‘bunny-hop’ via Grafton.
Grafton is the winner: it will gain one direct service a day, with the remaining two continuing to stop over at Taree.
Taree in turn will have one of its flights travel via Newcastle.
A flight from Lismore to Sydney via Grafton will now take passengers around two hours 20 minutes, compared to one hour 40 minutes for a direct flight.
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell is scathing of the move, which she described as ‘placating Grafton at the expense of Lismore’.
She told Echonetdaily she was ‘very disappointed’ at Rex’s decision.
‘I knew there was some assessment of flights from Lismore but I’d been assured about six weeks ago that Rex was looking at the mid morning and mid afternoon flights to go via another point,’ Cr Dowell said.
‘I was yesterday informed that the first flight in the morning and the last flight back will go via Grafton. For those flights to go via Grafton, leaving later here and arriving much later in Sydney, I think is very damaging for Rex and very disappointing for business people from Lismore who are looking to get down in time for a business meeting in the morning,’ she added.
‘Previously people were landing at roughly at 8.30 and could be at a meeting in Sydney by shortly after nine o’clock. Now the plane does not land in Sydney till nine o’clock, which means realistically that you’d be lucky to make a meeting by ten.
She added that Rex had lost an early slot in Sydney, ‘which is highly sought after and greatly valued’.
‘It just looks like the Grafton line was weak and Rex told me they had lost a lot of money on the Lismore line. This looks like making both less viable,’ she said.
Cr Dowell denied the changes to Rex’s schedule would impact the potential sale of Lismore Airport, which council currently has out to tender.
‘We knew about Rex’s losses on the Lismore route well before we were approached to look at selling the airport. Rex were more than comfortable with the discussions so I don’t think the two items should be linked at all,’ she said.
The timetable changes will take effect from October 27.
Rex has not announced any changes to its two daily direct flights to Ballina.