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Response from Free Spirit Airlines to the proposed increase in Merimbula Airport passenger tax

Dear Beagle Editor, Following on from recent letters in your pages from both Regional Express (Rex) Airlines and The Bega Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association in regards to the "passenger-tax" that was proposed in the most recent Bega Valley Council Fees and Charges for air services using the Merimbula Airport, allow me to avail the recent letter Free Spirit Airlines sent to Councillor Kristy McBain Mayor, Bega Valley Shire Council, as attached. Councillor Kristy McBain Mayor, Bega Valley Shire Council Honourable Councillor McBain, I have been forwarded copy of a public letter from Mr Warrick Lodge, General Manager of Regional Express which was addressed to you, dated the 15th of June 2017. Mr Lodge states categorically that an increase in Merimbula Airport passenger tax will result in reduction of scheduled flight services to Merimbula by Regional Express. This letter went further to make derogatory remarks with regards to the council leadership and lack of integrity within the council. I felt a response from Free Spirit Airlines to voice and clarify our position on this matter was required, as Mr Lodge also stated in his letter that he is now under instructions to reduce Merimbula services as a result of this proposed 50 cent per passenger increase in airport charges. Free Spirit Airlines has been providing scheduled flight services between Merimbula and Melbourne for two years. Our market share has been steadily increasing, especially with our recent introduction of a passenger shuttle bus connection service which provides a hassle free connection between Merimbula Airport and local coastal townships. I suggest the potential reduction of services by Regional Express has more to do with Rex’s declining passenger numbers, at least between Merimbula and Melbourne and to be using a 50 cent per seat increase in passenger charges as reasoning for reduction of services is nothing more than a face saving ploy, as Free Spirit Airlines is continuing to increase its’ market share. Free Spirit Airlines is thankful for the opportunity to operate services to the Merimbula Airport and we fully support council decision in the proposal to increase passenger tax by a nominal amount, understanding the additional revenue would be used to assist with airport maintenance and improvements. Regional Express has realised significant profits from their Merimbula flight services, with the majority of these profits falling into the hands of overseas investors. The recently circulated public letter from Rex in our view lacked the basics of business ethics, any degree of professionalism, not to mention common courtesy and respect and was clearly intended to offend the council. For the public record, we state that we found it reprehensible. We have already made a public announcement of our intention to increase the frequency of our flight services between Merimbula and Melbourne to a daily service by the end of this year. If indeed Regional Express reduce or cease services between Merimbula and Melbourne, we assure the public and the Bega Valley Shire Council that we would react immediately with a schedule frequency increase in order to ensure the public is not disadvantaged and are assured of regular scheduled flight services on the Merimbula to Melbourne route. Sincerely, Roman Badov Managing Director Free Spirit Airlines

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