Federal Govt launches second probe into airfares

Tom ZaunmayrPilbara News
VideoState Political Reporter Dylan Caporn explains why personal stories are so critical to the Parliamentary inquiry into expensive regional airfares.

The Federal Government has launched an inquiry into air travel to probe the social and economic impact of aviation services on regional Australia.

A State Government inquiry tabled in November found it was unable to determine whether airfares were fair because of a claimed lack of information from carriers.

Critics claimed the probe came up with plenty of ideas but no real action towards solving the high cost of air travel in regional WA.

The State Government is yet to respond to its recommendations.

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Now the Federal Government’s Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport is having a crack with the aim of probing the operation, regulation and funding of regional air services.

WA Liberal Senator Slade Brockman, who is on the committee, said the Federal inquiry would have greater scope to probe the industry.

“The inquiry conducted by the WA Parliament last year produced a number of interesting findings; however, the recommendations are necessarily limited to areas within the jurisdiction of the State Government,” he said.

“It is particularly important to note that aviation is overwhelmingly regulated at a Federal level and the Senate inquiry will reflect this.

“The purpose of conducting an inquiry such as this is to examine evidence and make informed recommendations to the Parliament and the Government about how best to address these iss-ues.”

One Federal issue that popped up regularly during the State inquiry was cabotage: the practice of an international carrier stopping by regional airports en route to their final destination.

Mr Brockman said unless Australian airlines could prove cabotage restrictions were benefiting travellers, relaxing restrictions should be considered.

Wickham community chaplain Richard Goscombe said he saw the burden of isolation every day in residents not being able to access their families.

“It is just terrible,” he said.

“When you are sitting in the Pilbara and you are aware planes are flying over you to Broome for half the price, it is just sad.

“Airlines are taking a mercenary attitude to the Pilbara and saying ‘you can subsidise the rest of our business’.”

Mr Goscombe said it was pleasing to see the Federal Government taking up the issue.

A Qantas spokeswoman said the uptake of resident fares — an initiative offering discounted fares for people living in the regions — highlighted the steps Qantas was taking to address these concerns.

“We’re committed to working with the Government and all stakeholders on providing the services regional Australia needs, and will participate in the inquiry with a focus on the economics of airline operations in regional ports,” she said.

“We’ve seen a positive response (to resident fares) with spikes in residents joining our frequent flyer program since the trial launched late last year.”

Durack MHR Melissa Price said constituents and stakeholders should air their views before the inquiry’s submission deadline on February 5.

Key focus areas for the inquiry

Social and economic impacts of air route supply and airfare pricing.

Different legal, regulatory, policy and pricing frameworks and practices across the Commonwealth, States and Territories.

How airlines determine fare pricing.

The determination of airport charges for landing and security fees, aircraft type and customer demand.

Pricing determination, subsidisation and equity of airfares.

Determination of regulated routes and distribution of residents’ fares across regulated routes.

Airline competition within rural and regional routes.

Consistency of aircraft supply and retrieval of passengers by airlines during aircraft maintenance and breakdown.

All related costs and charges imposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Any related matters.

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