Rex will compete head-to-head with Qantas on the Sydney-Canberra route from 19 April 2021, with the launch of Saab 340 flights. The regional airline also says it plans to open a new lounge at Canberra Airport later this year.
Rex will initially serve the Sydney-Canberra route with seven daily return flights, using its Saab 340 turboprops with 34 Economy class seats. The airline says it could increase that frequency to 10 daily services in each direction “if the patronage is good”.
Tickets will go on sale later this week, with Rex promising fares starting from $99 one-way. That’s significantly less than the cheapest available Qantas fares on the route, which currently start at $193 one-way for the 55-minute hop.
“At a time when many small businesses and households are still struggling to make ends meet, our fares will make a world of difference to the community that routinely sees one-way fares close to $1,000 for this short sector,” Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp said.
“We believe that on the Sydney-Canberra route alone Rex will be bringing annual savings of between $60 – $100 million to commuters when numbers return to pre-COVID levels, such is the level of fare gouging being practised.”
While it’s not quite accurate to say that Canberrans reguarly see one-way fares to Sydney “close to $1,000” – unless Sharp is referring to Qantas Business class tickets – there is little doubt that prices on the Canberra-Sydney route have climbed since Virgin Australia withdrew in April 2020.
While Qantas Economy Red-eDeal fares from Canberra to Sydney start from $193 one-way, they can be as high as $600 for an Economy Flex ticket when booking during a peak travel period (such as a parliamentary sitting week) or at the last minute. Qantas Classic Flight Reward availability has also been quite limited on the Canberra-Sydney route lately.
Those prices are not dissimilar to those for last minute Rex bookings between Sydney and Broken Hill, where Rex also has a monopoly. (In fairness to Rex, Broken Hill is also further from Sydney than Canberra. However, with just one train a week from Sydney to Broken Hill, there are far fewer public transport alternatives on this route, meaning Broken Hill residents often have little choice but to pay Rex’s high airfares. Canberrans can simply choose to take one of the hourly bus services to Sydney instead of flying.)
Qantas is currently operating around 4-7 flights per day on the Canberra-Sydney route, using a mixture of Dash 8 Q300s & Q400s, and larger Boeing 717s with Business class available.
Prior to COVID-19, Virgin Australia operated up to nine daily return flights between Canberra and Sydney using regional ATR 72 planes. But Virgin has since retired its ATR 72 fleet. It’s now left with Boeing 737s which are too large to serve the Canberra-Sydney route at the same level of frequency.
Virgin had previously planned to restart Sydney-Canberra flights last month with two daily Boeing 737-700 services, but the route relaunch has already been pushed back multiple times. Virgin’s schedule now indicates that direct Sydney-Canberra flights are due to restart on 26 July 2021, and Economy class tickets are on sale from this date for $159 one-way. But Virgin is currently scheduling nine daily ATR 72 flights on the route from this date – something that is clearly impossible as Virgin no longer has these aircraft in its fleet. So, expect more changes.
In order to compete on this route, which is popular with government and business travellers, an airline really does need plenty of frequency throughout the day. So, unless Virgin Australia comes up with an agreement for Alliance Airlines to operate Sydney-Canberra flights on its behalf using its smaller Fokker jets, Virgin may struggle to compete with the frequency of Qantas – and now Rex – if it ever does return to this route.
Rex will also commence four daily Sydney-Coffs Harbour and Sydney-Port Macquarie flights later this month, using Saab 340 aircraft. And it has extended services to Cooma, Bathurst, Lismore, Grafton and Kangaroo Island until at least September 2021, after the federal government extended Regional Aviation Network Support (RANS) funding until then. Rex had previously threatened to cease flights to these five regional destinations from the end of March 2021.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Rex launches Sydney-Canberra Saab 340 flights