LETTER: Pilot shortages and service disruptions

The aviation industry is amidst a global pilot shortage from which Australia is not spared. Regional aviation is the hardest hit as many local and international airlines actively poach pilots from Australia’s regional airlines to fill their own shortages. Even QantasLink is not immune to this as can be seen by the numerous media articles and releases by the former on its cancellations due to the pilot shortage.

Rex is the only major carrier in Australia that has proactively tried to resolve this problem by starting a state-of-the-art pilot academy – Australian Airline Pilot Academy (AAPA) – 10 years ago with over $35 M of investment. Since then, AAPA has trained over 220 cadets for Rex. 71% of Rex’s First Officer ranks and 29% of the Captain ranks are filled with former cadets of AAPA.

Whilst Rex’s initiative is successful in responding to natural attrition rates, it is not enough to stave off Qantas and Virgin Australia’s rapacious plundering of Rex’s pilot pool instead of using their not inconsiderable resources to train their own pilots. In the past two years, these two airlines collectively have poached 17% and 56% of Rex’s First Officer and Captain establishment respectively. These two airlines are causing widespread chaos and disruptions to regional air travel by their selfish and irresponsible actions.

Because of the critical pilot shortage, Rex is not able to have its usual contingent of stand-by pilots rostered for duty. Consequently, any last-minute sick leave may result in flights being cancelled or combined with other routes. However, while we are obviously not proud of our current performance, we would like to reassure our customers that Rex’s cancellation rate of 1.29% (as reported by BITRE for FY18 YTD) is still significantly lower than the cancellation rate of QantasLink 2.39% (almost double) and Virgin Australia Regional 2.74% (more than double).

Rex is acutely aware of the effect that flight disruptions have on travel plans whether it be for leisure or business and Rex apologises for all past and potential future disruption to services throughout the network as a result of the industry-wide global pilot shortage.

We thank the regional communities in advance for their support, understanding and indulgence in this difficult period. We promise that we will redouble our efforts in pursuing all options for pilot recruitment, including overseas recruitment. We will also be reviewing our network with a view to trimming our schedule where possible to conserve resources.

Neville Howell

Chief Operating Officer