Airport turbulence: fly in the ointment for Rex and Orange council

AIR TURBULENCE: Orange councillors are unhappy with passenger numbers at Orange Airport.
AIR TURBULENCE: Orange councillors are unhappy with passenger numbers at Orange Airport.

DROPPING passenger numbers at Orange Airport have prompted Orange councillors to form a working party to talk to Regional Express (Rex) management.

In June, 3884 people flew into Orange, compared with 4533 in the same month last year. 

The drop reflected a wider trend, with passenger numbers dropping from about 64,000 in 2011-12 to about 57,300 people in 2012-13 and finally about 52,700 in 2013-14. 

Only September and October in the 2013-14 financial year performed better than their respective months in 2012-13. With passenger numbers in Dubbo at about 174,000, councillor Jeff Whitton moved to form a working party to talk to Rex management about the falling numbers.

“I’ve been a councillor since 2004 and this has been the elephant in the room since 2004,” he said.

“It’s very embarrassing - you go to meetings and people talk about how beautiful the city is, but how expensive it is to fly here.”

Councillor Glenn Taylor expressed his disbelief at Rex’s submission to the Legislative Council’s inquiry into regional aviation services, which alleged the facility catered for seven times the passenger capacity of the old terminal - the council has since stated the correct figure was no more than three times. 

“I’ve never seen a situation where a council has been flogged by a major airport user for spending money,” he said. 

Mayor John Davis was cynical about Rex’s willingness to grow its business.

“It seems to be that the numbers are deliberately low because there’s no competition,” he said.

After the meeting, Cr Davis said the council believed 100,000 passengers was achievable and was disappointed the number had not been reached.

“It’s not about the [52,000] - 60,000 isn’t good enough anyway,” he said.

“We also believe that the Orange section of Rex’s business is highly profitable.”

A Rex spokeswoman said the airline was willing to work with the council and had collaborative partnership agreements with 15 regional councils. 

“Our experience with Orange City Council has found it to be one of the most unreasonable councils to work with, however we are willing to work together if council can change its approach,” she said.