Regional Express is now allowed to coordinate flight schedules on 10 regional routes with the nation’s two largest carriers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interim authorisation granted by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission will also enable Rex, QantasLink and Virgin to share revenue from providing services on the routes.
The coordination may involve arrangements such as each carrier on a route operating one daily service, with revenue shared between carriers, or an operator suspending operation on a route to allow another carrier to maintain a viable service.
It is conditional on airlines charging fares no higher than those in place on 1 February 2020, meaning the airlines will not be able to coordinate to raise prices.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the watchdog recognised the urgency of the interim authorisation, which will help provide certainty for regional flight operators to support services on these routes for those who need to use them.
“We hope that this temporary measure will also support airlines’ ability to again compete with each other on these routes once the pandemic crisis has passed,” he said.
“Airlines are facing significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including rapidly escalating travel restrictions. The ACCC stands ready to urgently assist airlines with any coordination arrangements that are necessary and appropriate during this crisis.”
Having granted interim authorisation for the arrangements, the ACCC will seek feedback on Rex’s application for authorisation. The watchdog is able to review the interim authorisation at any time.
The move is welcome news for Rex, which announced last week it will shut down all passenger services across the country, except for Queensland, where the services are underwritten by the state government.
Meanwhile, Virgin boss Paul Scurrah recently wrote to the ACCC calling for an investigation into comments made by rival and Qantas boss Alan Joyce about the possibility of extra assistance for the Richard Branson-backed airline beyond that of other carriers to outlast the COVID-19 crisis.
An ACCC spokesperson confirmed to Travel Weekly it had received the letter from Scurrah “and will be looking at the issues raised”.