Parkes Council vote to waive head-tax on morning and evening REX flights
At Parkes Shire Council's ordinary monthly meeting on January 17, Council voted to waive the head-tax on the early morning and evening RPT flights (i.e. Sydney overnight service), as a goodwill gesture to encourage/assist the reintroduction of that service.and to re-evaluate this in 12 months.
Council also voted to write to the Australian Government seeking the reintroduction of subsidies to ensure the viability of RPT air service to rural Australia.
In opening up discussions, Parkes Shire Mayor Neil Westcott said as they are all aware Parkes has an unsatisfactory situation of one midday service six days a week and they feel they need to go on the front foot to do what they can to go back to the regular three times a day service.
Parkes Shire Council's General Manager Kent Boyd said REX Airlines has been a really good ally to Parkes ever since they have been flying.
"We've become very reliant on their service and they've worked very well with us," he said.
"Through the pandemic they kept the flights going, even though the numbers dropped down to just a tenth of what they normally are."
Mr Boyd noted REX are going through some difficult times at the moment, having lost over 150 pilots in the last 18 months, along with supply parts for the engines in the planes they run.
"Certainly the morning and evening flight I think I don't need to try and explain how important that is to everyone."
Mr Boyd said the whole region really relies on those flights, having received correspondence from Parkes, Forbes and Condobolin.
He said they (waive the head-tax on the early morning and evening RPT flights) as a gesture to REX to encourage them to put those flights on, it might be something they could do to assist them a little bit.
"Because we are one of the very low passenger number airports in their fleet," Mr Boyd said.
"Not many towns of our size actually do have these return flights to Sydney. It's in some ways, it's a small gesture but a very important one I believe."
Mr Boyd said he believes it is money well spent if it encourages, in some small way, REX to return those flights back to what they were.
Cr Ken Keith agreed completely in what was said in terms of their good relations with REX and working with them over the years.
In the past REX has provided some incentives at times in relations to their ticketing, Cr Keith said, such as $100 late booking tickets and he thinks Council should encourage REX to provide some sort of those incentives if they come back to three flights a day to let people know they are back in town.
Cr Bill Jayet asked the general manager if, during his negotiations with REX, there were any indications that pilot numbers were improving.
In reply Mr Boyd said there has been some recruiting done through REX, and they are a very good trainer of pilots.
The fundamental problem, he said, is they are short of chief pilots, and as he understood they are making headway, but they don't know if it will lead to a change in circumstances at this stage.
Cr Jayet added congratulations to REX in regards to their flight and activities they put on for the Elvis Festival.
Cr Jacob Cass spoke in support of the recommendation, saying they should do whatever they can do to encourage REX back to their regular services.
Cr Cass said many local businesses and people are having to get used to flying out of Orange or Dubbo to meet their travel requirements in regards to traineeships and placements and the one flight a day isn't working for what they need.
With respect to REX always being their company of choice and the one who has looked after them the most, Cr Cass said, he would like to see them come back before they look at other options.
Cr Ken McGrath asked if Council had spoken with other councils like Forbes or Lachlan as it is as beneficial to them as it is to Parkes.
"I think it is a great idea to try and keep that service," he said.
Cr Westcott said the mayors of Forbes and Cabonne have been involved in this at an early stage.
Cr Westcott also noted the many letters of support from businesses for going down this path as many of these businesses rely on REX.
Cr Glenn Wilson questioned, if the biggest problem was the shortage of chief pilots and spare engines, would disposing of landing fees make any difference.
In reply Mr Boyd said the discussions with REX, in essence Parkes was at the wrong end of the pecking order for it to make it an economically viable proposition for REX.
This in some ways goes towards that bottom line, Mr Boyd said, and there has been a lot of rationalisation with REX and a lot of flights to smaller communities.
"We're just trying to head that off, that we are not one of the ones that rationalise. So this actually makes somewhat of a difference to the bottom line of flying in and out of Parkes," he said.
"It's a small encouragement but a very positive one I think."
Mr Boyd said in his discussions with Rex it will make a difference, particularly showing Parkes Council is supportive of doing what they can.
"This is really a show of goodwill and to slightly strengthen the bottom line if they fly in and out of Parkes. Yes, I believe it will make a difference," he said.
In September 2023 REX advised council of critical pilot shortages severely affected the operation of the REX fleet, the unavoidable consequence was the reduction in flights from a number of regional centres, which became effective from the end of October 2023.