Dubbo Regional Council says they will not bow to Regional Express Airlines' (REX) demands to cut its passenger tax and security screening fees, despite the airline threatening to stop its Dubbo to Sydney service.
REX has started a public campaign against the council's fees, saying they could offer cheaper airfares to Dubbo passengers if the charges were scrapped.
But Councillor John Ryan said it would be " irresponsible" of the council to "bow down to every company which wants to cut its own costs by getting ratepayers to subsidise their commercial operations."
"This is all so REX can make larger profits," Cr Ryan said.
"Rather than discount airfares for Dubbo residents, REX has spent money on a letterbox drop in a bid to put pressure on the council to give the airline what it wants. The arguments REX puts forward use selective cherry-picked information, REX is taking advantage of a simplified appeal to people's hip pockets."
Cr Ryan said council is required to have security screening at our airport.
"Despite what REX is telling people, this is a federal government rule due to the volume and size of certain types of aircraft that use Dubbo," he said.
REX's position is that they don't need security screening because their aircraft don't fit the required size.
Cr Ryan said not screening REX's passengers would require two departure lounges (secure and non-secure) and continual costly security sweeps of the tarmac between secure and non-screened flights.
"Having further security sweeps on the tarmac potentially causes delays in departures and arrivals," he said. "By creating two departure lounges, REX would force that extra cost directly on to all Dubbo ratepayers so it would be in effect a broad-based subsidy for the airline, including from people who never use the flights.
"The security screening costs do not prohibit REX introducing cheaper fares. The $1.99 increase in landing fees sees Dubbo align with other like-sized airports like Tamworth and Coffs Harbour."
Dubbo's airport has around 220,000 passengers a year. Cr Ryan said comparing Dubbo to Orange or Parkes, which has much smaller airports at 60,000 passengers each is "ridiculous."
"Council has a responsibility to make sure that future replacement of essential infrastructure like the runway is accounted for," he said. "The $1.99 increase is to pay for the replacement of such infrastructure without asking ratepayers to fund a rate rise for the facility."
Cr Ryan said REX has a history of threatening councils that they'll pull out services.
"Unfortunately the airline has access to vital landing slots at Sydney's airport, and this gives the company unfair power when it comes to bargaining with individual councils," he said.
"I'm concerned that REX has as its ultimate motive the scrapping of security screening for its flights and is still smarting from losing that battle in court with the former Dubbo City Council a few years ago.
"Council has told REX repeatedly that it is prepared to negotiate across a range of issues, but I think REX is determined to get the screening charge dropped so it will gain a competitive advantage over Qantaslink's larger, newer aircraft.
REX stated in its leaflet it "has absolutely no intention of operating larger aircraft to Dubbo."
That's a shame," Cr Ryan said.
"It would be great to see REX investing in more modern, larger aircraft, especially given recent concerns about the maintenance of its aircraft.
"REX deputy chairman John Sharp has been a long-time critic of Dubbo airport charges, even though they make up only a small percentage of the ticket prices which REX charges to local travellers.
"John Sharp's work history is an interesting read - as a former federal transport minister, he privatised most of Australia's capital city airports, the very same airports he now criticises for charging his airline too much in fees.
"I find it suspicious that REX waited until the council was fully occupied with a critical water crisis before launching an unprecedented attack on our airport charges."
REX say they will respond to Cr Ryan's claims as soon as possible.
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