Regional travel will become more difficult as the drastic pilot shortage leads to cuts in routes, with predictions of a “bloodbath” among regional airlines.
Rex chief pilot Chris Hine has warned the situation would get worse this year as all three major domestic airlines – Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue – embark on aggressive fleet expansion.
“I expect to see a bloodbath amongst the regional operators in the months ahead. I foresee many regional operators not making it through 2008,” he said.
The airlines, together with newcomer Tiger Airways, are luring pilots from the regional services.
Rex has, at late notice, had to cancel occasional flights within South Australia and the eastern states when ill pilots could not be replaced.
It has now been forced to withdraw from some routes because of a shortage of rostered pilots.
Rex will suspend Melbourne-Griffith flights from February 25, reduce the number of flights from Sydney to Griffith, defer the resumption of Sydney-Cooma services to June 6 and postpone Maryborough-Brisbane flights, which were to have restarted in March, until September “at the earliest”.
“No airline in the world can withstand a 60 per cent annual attrition rate of its pilot strength without catastrophic damage,” Mr Hine said.
He said it was only due to dedication of staff that comparatively few routes had been suspended.
Rex has started a pilot school and the first batch of 16 cadets is due through in July, followed by about 20 more every three months.
But this feed of new pilots comes as main airlines continue to recruit its experienced pilots.
“Not all regional airlines have Rex’s ability to fund their own cadet program and flying academy,” Mr Hine said.
Rex operates a fleet of 37 Saab 340 aircraft on 1300 flights a week to 24 destinations from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.