Crisis meeting between Regional Express and Wagga council kept quiet

The fate of 70 Wagga workers is up in the air after details of a crisis meeting between Regional Express (Rex) and Wagga council on Friday were suppressed. 

Council and Regional Express (Rex) released similar single-sentence statements, claiming the “positive discussions were held, the outcome of which will be known next week”.

It comes after Wagga council proposed an airport tax hike worth an extra $760,000 to the airline, prompting Rex to warn flights to Melbourne would be scrapped if council followed through. 

The airline also threatened to renege on a deal to buy council’s notorious Douglas Aerospace hangar, but council claims it has buyers lining up should Rex leave Wagga. 

Council general manager Alan Eldridge, who has previously claimed airport charges did not reflect the high standard of the facility, led council’s defence.

Mr Eldridge was accompanied by mayor Greg Conkey and council’s outgoing commercial and economic director James Bolton.

The airline was represented by Singapore-based chairman Lim Kim Hai, who had been watching the commercial relationship deteriorate from afar.

Mr Lim was backed up by former federal Nationals politician of 14 years and licensed pilot John Sharp, who also serves as the airline’s deputy chairman.

Mr Lim and Mr Sharp were joined by chief operating officer Neville Howell – who fired the first shots in the ongoing dispute – and strategy and sales manager Warrick Lodge.

Three weeks ago Regional Express (Rex) accused Wagga council of ripping off passengers, claiming council was guilty of “greed or incompetence” and of treating its airport as a “convenient cash cow”.

The airline claimed council had been steadily increasing revenue from the passenger head tax “by a compounded 5 per cent a year for the past decade” and slammed the local government for making a grab for an extra $760,000 a year.

Council has claimed the city could no longer afford to keep borrowing to pay for annual losses at the airport, which it claimed has been the case for five years.

Rex disputes council’s assertion the airport must run at a loss; a sentiment backed by recently retired councillor Julian McLaren who accused council management of “creative accountancy” to exaggerate the airport's losses.

More details are expected next week.

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