War of words flying high
CLAIMS a future Coalition government in Canberra would bar regional airlines from Sydney Airport have been flatly rejected by Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss.
Mr Truss yesterday declared regional access to Sydney Airport was “sacrosanct” after Transport Minister Anthony Albanese claimed the Coalition wanted to bar regional airlines from the airport as a way of solving congestion problems.
Access to Sydney Airport has been a thorny issue for regional airline REX, which has repeatedly accused Sydney Airport of trying to force out small regional operators – something the airport has repeat- edly denied.
The current Federal Labor Government and the former Coalition government have both defended the rights of airlines such as REX to access Sydney Airport.
Mr Albanese yesterday drew attention to comments by Mr Truss during an interview with Sydney radio station 2GB, saying “We can make better use of the existing time slots without altering the number of aircraft movements, put bigger aircraft into Sydney, make better use of other cities like Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle and Canberra as hubs.”
In a statement, Mr Albanese said Mr Truss's comments showed the Coalition wanted to squeeze out smaller aircraft, such as the Saab 340s used by REX and BAE Jetstream J41s used by Canberra-based Brindabella Airlines.
“According to Mr Truss these smaller planes should make way for the bigger jets operated by major international or domestic airlines,” he said.
“This is a truly bizarre proposition from a party which claims to represent Regional Australia. The National Party is simply out of touch.”
Mr Truss hit back, dismissing the comments as “pathetic”.
“I would remind Mr Albanese … it was the Coalition that legislated to guarantee reserved slots for regional aircraft at Sydney Airport,” Mr Truss said.
“That commitment remains sacrosanct.
“What I said yesterday (on 2GB), and reaffirm today, is that greater use of Sydney Airport can be achieved without compromising that commitment.”
The round of political football aside, REX network strategy general manager Warwick Lodge said it was comforting to see both sides of politics were committed to maintaining regional slots at Sydney.
Mr Warwick said it was the guarantee of those slots that allowed smaller regional operators such as REX to get off the ground during the 1990s after the collapse of Ansett and they remained critical to the existence of the airlines.
“If anything, it (the spat between Mr Albanese and Mr Truss) is raising awareness of the importance of regional flights for communities such as those on the NorthernRivers,” he said.