A long-running row involving a regional airline, the mayor of a Tasmanian island and its local newspaper has deepened, with the airline’s boss saying he is “sick and tired” of the spat taking up “too much” of his business’s time, and announcing he is pulling flights only just reinstated following a peace deal.
Regional Express, also known as Rex, dropped two weekly return flights between Melbourne and King Island earlier this year following a disagreement about increased airport fees imposed by the King Island Council.
The increased landing fees for carriers at the airport were meant to help turn around the finances of the island’s airport after a reported $470,000 loss, but were met with resistance by Rex and other carriers who argued against them, with Rex reducing services until a peace deal was reached after intervention by the Tasmanian government in September.
The spat was covered in the local newspaper, the King Island Courier. But the story became the subject of threatened legal action from the council, with a demand that the paper apologise to King Island Mayor Duncan McFie for the way the disagreement was reported.
Now, Rex executive chairman Lim Kim Hai has again withdrawn flights, saying the saga was requiring “too much management effort”.
“I am sick and tired of the chicaneries of the King Island Council and, as a result, Rex will no longer be continuing the two weekly return services that were recently reinstated,” he said in a statement.
“This very marginal route has consumed too much management effort and I have directed my staff to no longer entertain any more discussions with King Island Council or with any intermediaries.”
Rex will now cut back its daily service to the island, which has a population of around 1500, from seven days a week to five. Sharp Airlines continues to operate a daily service to and from Melbourne.
‘We all just want to get over it’
Ian Johnson is one of the biggest accommodation providers on the island and also runs a tour business.
He said the loss of two Rex flights a week would have a big impact.
“We handle fairly big numbers with Rex. They’re really the mainstay in our business in trying to get decent numbers to the island,” he said.
“To take those two days out certainly takes the cream off the top.”
Mr Johnson said the reduced service would not just affect his business, but would have a “knock-on effect right across the island, whether it’s fuel or buying groceries on the island, supporting the local butcher and so on”.
“We handle groups of up to 20 at a time and there isn’t another airline carrier to the island that can handle that, so it certainly has a dramatic impact.”
He said the problem could have been avoided.
“King Island’s a small place and I think we all just want to get over it, but I think it was handled very poorly,” he said.
“It certainly has been a poor case of handling a major crisis really. That’s what it’s turned out to be.
“I’m always optimistic but this is not just a sore, it’s a festering wound unfortunately.”
The council has been contacted for comment.