Regional Express will now keep its inter-city Boeing 737 flights grounded until at least October 31, 2021, more than 12 weeks since the nascent jet network was formally suspended on July 21.
The airline will also extend the reduced schedule for its regional flights due to ongoing lockdowns and travel restrictions across several states including NSW and Victoria.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today said that people from the greater Sydney area would be able to freely travel to regional NSW only once the state hits 80% of full vaccination, "and we envisage that to be by the end of October."
In a statement issued through the ASX, Rex said owing to "the need for lead time for advanced ticket sales, the airline was "left with no option but to extend the suspension of its domestic services and reduction of regional services up until 31 October 2021."
In related news, Qantas today announced it would restart regular flights between NSW and Victoria from November 5, one month earlier than the previously-slated December 5 timeline, based on Victoria's latest state reopening plan.
PREVIOUS [July 21, 2021] Rex has suspended all Boeing 737 flights with immediate effect, while also reducing the frequency of its regional flights, as city lockdowns and state border closures continue to hammer air travel.
The airline's entire Boeing 737 fleet is now grounded, along with its nascent network of flights linking Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, the Gold Coast and Adelaide.
Regional services will remain in place to keep those communities connected, but see reductions in frequency, in some cases with only a handful of flights per week.
"Domestic and Regional routes on Rex's network in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania will be either temporarily suspended or greatly reduced until the end of the State Government imposed border closures and/or lockdowns," the airline said in a media statement issues this evening.
The airline has reassured passengers that it will continue to offer a refund within days of their claim, in accordance with the Rex COVID Refund Guarantee outlined on the Rex home page.
This includes bookings made through a travel agent as well as directly with Regional Express via its website.
"Rex's COVID Refund Portal ensures that our passengers receive their money in the bank within 2-3 days of making an eligible refund request through our automated portal," said Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp.
"This gives our passengers the complete peace of mind to make their flight bookings without worry of any snap lockdowns and subsequent loss of money."
Flight tracking site FlightRadar24 indicates that Rex's Boeing 737 drawdown has been steadily building over the past week, with Rex having already grounded two of its six jets as of July 13 and three more across July 16-17; the last jet standing, with the tail number of VH-REX, made its final flight on Sunday July 18 from the Gold Coast to Melbourne.
While domestic air travel was recently showing solid signs of recovery, to the point where Qantas was projecting it would fly at 90% of pre-Covid capacity across the April-June quarter, a surge of cases involving the highly infectious Covid-19 Delta variant turned that trajectory into another nosedive.
According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), one in every four domestic flights was cancelled in June – a total of 9,406 flights, reportedly the highest number since records began.
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all found themselves in lockdown at some stage during June.