IT APPEARS Orange cannot see a change in scheduled flights or fresh construction work around the airport without a fight breaking out between council and commercial carrier Regional Express (Rex).
The upgrade of the terminal building and the runway have barely got back on track after the collapse of a contractor and sure enough Rex and councillors are sparring over landing fees and ticket prices.
In council’s corner this time is frequent flyer councillor Jeff Whitton. Hit with a $399 one-way ticket to Sydney he took aim at Rex and the wisdom of spending $19 million on the airport when the sole provider of scheduled flights seemed intent on setting prices few travellers would be prepared to pay.
Rex management for its part hit back with its perennial criticism, the high landing and departure fees council charges passengers.
It’s not surprising that Rex’s pricing gets many air travellers fired up, there are probably cheaper flights from Sydney to Perth than Sydney to Orange at times.
But it is also true that if you booked with Rex to Sydney well in advance but booked Sydney to Perth at the last minute the disparity in pricing would disappear.
Beyond all the turbulence it is clear that running a regional airline, including on a relatively solid route like Orange to Sydney, is no mean feat.
If nothing else the demise of Brindabella showed that.
Council’s passenger fees are high but when the upgrade is finished so too will be the standard of this regional airport. It will be up to air travellers to try and book ahead and secure the cheapest fare with Rex, but in the end if Rex ever did call the council’s bluff over passenger fees and pull out of Orange another carrier would take its place.
There might not be the passenger numbers yet to sustain two airlines but there is enough confidence in the future to justify bringing the airport up to scratch for whichever carrier flies the route.