Mount Isa MP Rob Katter hopes the Department of Transport review into Queensland’s long distance passenger services, due for release mid-year, will explore the types of aircraft being used to service routes around the state.
Mr Katter has been vocal in his questioning of the cost of airfares, asking in parliament last September whether the Transport Minister of the time would commit to “an independent inquiry or study into the clear abuse of market position perpetrated by commercial route air service providers in the north west”.
He said his concern originated with families from the region who were “severely burdened by the unjustifiable and consistently high prices gouged by air service providers like Qantas”, meaning they had no choice but to drive 20 hours to Brisbane or 10 hours to Townsville.
This week Mr Katter said he remained extremely interested in the outcomes of the review, partly because service levels seemed to have dropped since smaller and older 717 aircraft started being used to service routes to Mount Isa after the mining downturn.
“The 717 has been out of production for about 10 years and perhaps it’s not the aircraft that’s best suited to the route from a reliability perspective,” he said.
“If these aircraft are older than the 737s previously used, you would assume the capital cost has been paid off and they should be much cheaper to run. This should result in lower airfares but that hasn’t been the case.
“There’s usually a trade-off between reliability and price but at the moment we seem to be getting all of the cost with none of the reliability.”
He said Qantas outsourced the operation and maintenance of its 717s to a third party, suggesting the company needed to look at whether this arrangement was delivering the reliability that it should.
“I would hope TMR would be providing recommendations to the government on whether they believe the aircraft Qantas are using are appropriate and whether the way Qantas are pricing their tickets reflects the service levels they’re providing.
“Qantas started in the north west to provide an essential service connecting the city and the bush. Now their high price and unreliable service is a barrier.”
A generic response from a Department of Transport spokesman noted that economic and market conditions in regional Queensland had changed considerably since the 2013 review, as a result of changes in the resources sector and drought.
He said the independent review was expected to be completed by the end of March, with recommendations for government consideration to be provided by the middle of the year.
The aim of the update was threefold, to see whether service levels recommended by the last review are appropriate, whether deregulated routes have maintained appropriate service levels for the community, and whether other routes should be considered for regulation.
Mr Katter said he would be ensuring the new minister, Jackie Trad, addresses the problems of price.
“Clearly the problems with the airlines weren’t solved by the previous minister.”
Following an extensive competitive open tender process during 2014, some regional air routes were deregulated and others are now operated by new operators.
There were some changes to timetables and Toowoomba passengers now need to access services from the new Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba.
Regulated air services:
- Central 1 Brisbane – Roma - Charleville (QantasLink)
- Central 2 Brisbane-Barcaldine/Blackall-Longreach (QantasLink)
- Western 1 Brisbane-Toowoomba*-St George-Cunnamulla-Thargomindah Regional Express (REX)
- Western 2 Brisbane-Toowoomba*-Charleville-Quilpie-Windorah-Birdsville-Bedourie-Boulia-Mount Isa Regional Express (REX)
- Northern 1 Townsville-Winton-Longreach Regional Express (REX)
- Northern 2 Townsville-Hughenden-Richmond-Julia Creek-Mount Isa Regional Express (REX)
- Gulf Cairns-Normanton-Mornington Island-Burketown-Doomadgee-Mount Isa Regional Express (REX)
Deregulated air services:
Three Queensland air routes were deregulated from January 1, 2015. By removing the government-regulation, other operators were able to enter the market, which was said to encourage lower and more competitive airfares for customers. This includes flights to and from:
- Cairns-Horn Island
- Townsville-Cloncurry-Mount Isa