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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Rex to challenge Qantas with $99 Canberra-Sydney fares

Having long been up in the air, the cost of flying between Canberra and Sydney will begin its descent next month with Rex announcing they will commence flights on the route with $99 fares.

The Canberra to Sydney flight route is currently serviced only by Qantas, whose tickets are priced anywhere from $193 to $657 one way.

Such exorbitant rates at the higher end have long pushed many travelling between Canberra and Sydney for business or pleasure to take the more affordable option of bussing or driving up the Hume Highway.

Announcing they would launch seven return flights a day from 19 April, Rex deputy chairman John Sharp AM said he hoped the Rex budget fares would stimulate more travel between Canberra and Sydney.

“Qantas has gouged the market here between Canberra and Sydney; they’ve charged monopoly rents,” he said.

“So many people have chosen to drive, take the bus, or take the train rather than the plane, and we will change that competitive dynamic.”

Fares are available with Qantas on 19 April, the day Rex launches, for $193.

Fares on Sydney to Melbourne, where Qantas competes with Virgin, are slightly more that day – $220 one way.

If patronage meets expectations, Mr Sharp said Rex have capacity to scale up to 10 flights per day.

“Ten is a good frequency because that means during a business day there’s a flight going nearly every hour, and that’s a really convenient service,” he said.

“We expect to get a lot of government business out of this because we will be best fare of the day.”

A Qantas spokesperson told Canberra Weekly the Sydney to Canberra route had historically enjoyed competition until Virgin halted their service as they went into administration last year.

“Our lead in fares on the route hasn’t changed since then, and we’ve recently had sale fares for as low as $109,” they said.

“Unlike Rex, we welcome competition on the routes we fly, and we’re confident in the product we offer.”

Currently, Qantas operates up to 40 per cent of their pre-COVID capacity between Sydney and Canberra – 50 return flights per week. More flights will be added in April.

Canberra Airport CEO, Stephen Byron said the Canberra-Sydney service represents the airport’s “great gap” in their recovery, with patronage on that route still 85% down on their pre-COVID figures.

The announcement from Rex comes as they seek to expand into connecting capital cities.

The regional carrier will launch flights between Melbourne and Adelaide later this month alongside flights connecting the Gold Coast to both Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Sharp said he hoped to one day run flights between Canberra and Melbourne, too.

“It’s a matter of entering discussions with Canberra Airport … but that certainly is on the map and something we’re willing to discuss.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he hoped Canberra could play a bigger role in Rex’s future expansion plans.

“We know the business model they’re pursuing and the competition they’re going to bring into the marketplace,” he said.

“So if that attracts others, then that’s how competitive skies work, but it takes someone to make the first move.”

Virgin has not yet resumed a direct Canberra to Sydney flight due to a lack of suitable aircraft in their fleet to efficiently service the route.

Travelling between Canberra and Sydney with Virgin requires a stop-over in Melbourne, taking roughly 3 to 4 hours and costing in the vicinity of $700 to $900.

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