People travelling on regional airlines could face price hikes if bolstered security measures at regional airports are introduced to prevent future terror threats.
That is the view of airline Regional Express (Rex), which operates in 45 regional towns, but the Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Darren Chester, said new security measures may be necessary to protect all Australians.
The Federal Government has ordered a review of security amid concern there is no mandatory screening of regional airport passengers on planes weighing less than 20 tonnes.
This means a person can currently travel from certain country airports to large domestic ones without having to going through security checks, such as scanners.
“The response to the terrorist threat last week in terms of this regional review is part of our normal course of business, as a precautionary measure to make sure our settings are appropriate,” Mr Chester said.
Regional Express said it would comply with the review, but warned authorities against implementing “onerous” security measures because of the threat of terrorism.
“Screening of all such potential targets would be so prohibitively expensive and onerous that normal life would be shut down,” the company said in a statement.
“Giving in to hysteria is precisely the outcome that the terrorists seek and this would allow them to succeed in their objective of severely disrupting daily life without needing to carry out a single attack.
“Australia and Australians know better than to fall for their trap.”
The airline warned improved security measures at regional airports could push the price of regional flights up.
“The annual operating cost associated with the provision of screening is about $750,000 per annum at each location, which means that regional air travellers will have to absorb an additional $34 million per annum in costs,” the company said.
Regional Express said because its operational profit was only $4 million “it would be easy to see what would happen if screening were made mandatory — most regional centres would be left without an air service.”
Mr Chester conceded improved security measures could force up the price of a regional flight.
“Every step you take comes at a cost attached to it which is why you respond in an appropriate way, and calmly and coolly assess the situation,” he said.
“We don’t want to stifle growth in the aviation sector but at the same time safety is our number one priority, so it is a somewhat difficult equation to get right.
“Every service provided at an airport comes at a level of cost, there’s a range of security measures in place on all passenger transport in Australia, like locked cockpit doors and pre-flight checks.”
Stakeholders must comply with review
The industry’s peak body, the Regional Aviation Association of Australia, said it was important all stakeholders complied with the review.
“Regardless of the perceptions held about security and its implementation, it is essential we support the several specialised agencies in Australia that continually evaluate and assess factual risks and threats to our industry and our security infrastructure,” the association said in a statement.
While not all regional airports use security measures such as scanners, Mr Chester said they all had at least some level of security, which was not always visible to the public.
There are 137 million passenger movements in Australia each year, and many of those are in regional Australia.
A total of 170 regional airports across Australia will be considered in the review, and Mr Chester urged all stakeholders, including the flying public, to assist in the process.
“You need to make sure we don’t have regional aviation regulated to the point it becomes unviable,” he said.
“We need to work with industry, local councils who are heavily involved in regional operations, and the flying public themselves on what is a reasonable price to be able to access the services.”
However, Regional Express said some planes on regional routes carried fewer passengers than buses, and that remote airlines were not the only safety risk.
“Smaller regional aircraft carry fewer passengers than most buses, and it would be senseless to enforce screening on the former while leaving ‘vulnerable’ the tens of thousands of buses plying the streets each day,” the company said.
“Terrorists will and do strike soft targets too as we have seen in the truck attacks in Nice and in London, and the attack on a Sydney cafe.”
The airline also said regional communities may have reduced access to essential services, if expensive security measures were introduced.
“Those needing to travel for essential medical, education and business reasons would be forced to drive,” the company said.