Senate inquiry finds high costs hurting regional travellers

TRAVELLERS flying to and from Hervey Bay are being slugged with excessive airfares - and the problem won't be fixed any time soon.

After its inquiry into the high costs of Australia's regional air services, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee has recommended a stand-alone probe by the Productivity Commission into flights between regional centres across Australia.

It could mean Hervey Bay's flights will face scrutiny. Checks yesterday found the cheapest return flight to Brisbane - at 6.45am - was $376.

While flight prices are subject to a range of factors, including booking time, distance travelled, frequent flyer discounts and service availability, an 7.10am flight from Melbourne to Brisbane was $220.

The Senate Committee found there was a lack of transparency around how airfares at regional centres were priced and these prices were found to be justified by the "economics of scale".

Nine recommendations, which include a financial analysis of the burden that increased security screening would have on regional airports and a review into "the funding of regional and remote aerodrome infrastructure and maintenance", were handed down.

Flight prices and availability have remained an issue on the Fraser Coast but Councillor Paul Truscott said flights at the airport had "remained stable" since a reshuffle in October last year.

Last week, he said flight prices were a commercial decision and it was ultimately up to the airlines.

Hinkler MP Keith Pitt said the Federal Government would consider the findings.

In his submission to the inquiry in February last year, he said frequent adjustments to the flight schedule were causing delays and forcing passengers to forfeit connecting flight airfares as a result

"While we have been serviced by QantasLink for decades, the number of flights, the reliability of those flights and the cost of tickets have raised major issues," Mr Pitt said in his submission.

"The reduction in services is not due to lack of demand for seats as flights are often booked out weeks in advance. Passengers need to plan well in advance to secure a seat."

- Additional reporting: Rhylea Millar



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