Airline threatens to downgrade Orange service over passenger fee increase

THE general manager of Regional Express (Rex) has threatened a "significant downgrade" to its Orange/Sydney service to protest Orange City Council's "irresponsible" decision to increase its "exorbitant" airport fees by 30 cents per passenger.

The council charges airlines $15.95 per arriving and departing passenger at the airport.

Councillors signed off on an increase to $16.25 on December 3, but are now set to debate a rescission motion at Tuesday night's meeting, lodged by Cr Russell Turner and supported by Cr Scott Munro and mayor John Davis, that could scrap the higher passenger fee and increases to other landing charges at the airport.

Rex general manager Warrick Lodge accused the council of treating the airport as a "profit centre" instead of a community asset, in an open letter also submitted to a NSW upper house inquiry into regional aviation

He said the $15.95 passenger tax was the highest of all regional airports serviced by Rex in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.

"We calculate that the $950,000 annual head tax revenue is generating more than half a million dollars of excess profit based on what typical regional airports require as running costs," he said.

"This is on the back of an asset that was vested to council by the federal government for the benefit of the entire community."

Mr Lodge said in the "current toxic environment" Rex had "no choice" but to prioritise cities that work in partnership with the airline to serve the community.

"Unfortunately this would mean that some of Rex's Sydney airport slots used for Orange would be diverted to other ports thereby resulting in a significant downgrade of the Orange services," he said.

"True to our prediction Brindabella had to withdraw from Orange and [the council's] exorbitant airport charges are a contributor to this outcome."

The council's general manager Garry Styles said it was disappointing to receive yet another critical letter from Rex and criticised its timing - just days after Rex's competitor Brindabella Airlines went into receivership.

"The council has received many letters of this tone from Rex many times before," he said.

"Once again it's all about Rex.

"To be using this financial tragedy [of the Brindabella receivership] that's cost 140 jobs as an excuse to threaten to reduce Orange's share of timeslots into Sydney airport, beggars belief."

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