Wagga council has bolstered its bargaining position ahead of Friday’s crisis meeting with Regional Express (Rex) over airport fees.
It comes amid a bitter feud over a proposed $760,000 a year tax hike, which goaded Rex to shop around for a new city to service its planes, putting 70 local jobs on the chopping block.
Rex, which claims to be “barely covering” costs, also threatened to ground its flights to Melbourne and renege on a deal to take a $2.8 million plane hangar off council’s books.
The Daily Advertiser has learnt council has an ace-in-the-hole, with senior council sources confirming two parties are “very interested” in purchasing the aircraft painting hangar.
What’s more, council has been approached by another airline hoping to service Rex’s Wagga to Melbourne route should negotiations deteriorate.
Rex’s Singapore-based chairman Lim Kim Hai will fly into Sydney for Friday’s meeting with council general manager Alan Eldridge and mayor Greg Conkey.
Former Riverina MP Kay Hull, whose name adorns the side of a Rex Saab 340 plane, will also sit in.
Councillor Rod Kendall said council could not afford to keep running the airport at a loss and Rex should not expect ratepayers to prop up its business.
Cr Kendall said council’s express purpose for jacking up the passenger head tax by 35 per cent was to break even, not to “cover up for excesses in other parts of councils’ finances” as Rex has claimed.
Councillor Paul Funnell said the revelation of buyers expressing interest in the hangar – currently occupied by Rex ahead of final purchase once council finalises agreed renovations – could turn the tables on Friday’s meeting.
“Rex is very important corporate citizen to Wagga, have contributed greatly and continue to do so,” Cr Funnell said.
“But this is a potential negotiation changer and shows council continues to be proactively protect a ratepayer investment.”