Qantas to front regional airfares Senate inquiry as remote Australians complain about ticket prices
Hamish Griffin drove 1,700km from Cloncurry to Darwin for the inquiry rather than fly. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)
When regional Queensland resident Hamish Griffin decided to go to Darwin to hear Qantas explain why its regional flights cost so much, the apt irony was that it was cheaper for him to drive 1,700km than fly into town.
- The inquiry is looking into the operation, regulation, and funding of air route service delivery to regional Australia
- It has received more than 160 submissions of first-hand experiences from across the country
- Hamish Griffin has collected evidence of Qantas plane tickets between Cloncurry and Brisbane costing more than $1,500 return
If he flew today, the cheapest flight from Mr Griffin’s hometown of Cloncurry in Queensland to Darwin was $979 one-way on Virgin, with two stopovers and a total journey time of 25 hours.
If he drove 90 minutes to the bigger regional hub of Mount Isa and then flew Qantas, he could pick up a ticket for $723, but that would take him halfway across the country via Sydney and then back north to Darwin.
“It was just easier to hop in the car and drive, it’s a $500 round trip in fuel and then motels,” Mr Griffin said.
It is experiences like his that, 18 months ago, prompted a Senate inquiry to look into the operation, regulation, and funding of air route service delivery to rural, regional, and remote communities.
So far, the inquiry has received more than 160 submissions of first-hand experiences, and heard from airlines Alliance, Virgin, and REX at public hearings across regional Australia.
Today Qantas, the biggest player in the market, will be the latest airline to front the inquiry in Darwin.
Mr Griffin has been on a crusade to lower plane ticket prices for several years and has attended many of the inquires so far.
He has collected evidence of Qantas plane tickets between Cloncurry and Brisbane costing more than $1,500 for a return trip, and is eagerly awaiting Qantas’s submissions to the inquiry.
“What would make me happy is if they said, ‘yeah, actually we can do something to make it more affordable’,” he said.
“Qantas seem to me to have absolute contempt for people from the bush, and we are the people the airline was founded for.”
Hamish Griffin believes the cost of flights from his closest airport are excessive. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)
$10,000 per year for one family’s domestic flights
In the last few months alone, Qantas and its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar have axed flights from Darwin between April and late June this year, and cut direct routes between other regional cities including Perth and Alice Springs.
Central Australian cattle station owner Rebecca Cadzow is one remote resident who acutely feels the impact of flight cuts and pricing decisions by Qantas.
Ms Cadzow sends her three girls to a boarding school in Armidale in NSW, as she believes they get a better education there than in their closest regional city of Alice Springs.
Qantas is the only airline that can fly the girls to Armidale on a semi-direct route, and doing this costs the family upwards of $10,000 in plane tickets every year.
“It’s quite a huge barrier,” Ms Cadzow said.
“We’d love to go over and watch the girls at their athletics carnivals or the cross country and the swimming carnivals, but because of the costs of the flights and timing, it’s incomprehensible, so the girls miss out on us being there.
“It’s not just the price, it’s also the availability; there’s not always seats available.
“I understand that to be a business they need to make some money, but the level of money Qantas is making out of poor families trying to access education is a bit ridiculous.”
Calls for NT to subsidise student flights
The Senate inquiry has already heard evidence that, despite far greater passenger numbers at Alice Springs airport, flights going out of the small airport almost five hours’ drive away at Uluru are usually significantly cheaper.
This leads to the bizarre situation of many Alice Springs residents driving about 450km to Uluru in order to fly out of the Northern Territory.
Qantas introduced a discounted price scheme for Mount Isa and Cloncurry Queensland residents in 2017 after significant community lobbying, and last year started offering Alice Springs residents discounted flights to Darwin.
“I’d like to see that rolled out further,” Ms Cadzow said.
The airlines that have given evidence so far have pointed to many pressures on their business models, including the higher costs of doing business in regional Australia, the costs of fuel and lower passenger numbers, and a lack of regulation on airport charges at regional airports.
Ms Cadzow said she could not lay all the blame for the situation on the airlines, and that she wanted the NT Government to be more proactive and either improve education in Alice Springs or subsidise the costs of students leaving town.
Mr Griffin also argued that Governments had a role to play, and that plane tickets to the bush and regional towns should be regulated.
Qantas will appear before the inquiry in Darwin from 9:00am.
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