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Rex mulls northern expansion as Airnorth looks uncertain

Australia's Regional Express is considering establishing a new base in Darwin as uncertainty surrounds the future of local carrier Airnorth.

The Sydney-based turboprop operator says that its board resolved during a 23 May meeting to consider expanding into the Northern Territory.

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“Following Airnorth’s parent company, the Bristow Group, going into Chapter 11 in the United States, many concerned stakeholders have approached Rex to ensure the long-term viability of regional air services in the Northern Territory," says deputy chairman John Sharp.

Cirium schedules data shows that Airnorth operates several flights to regional destinations in the Northern Territory, including Gove, Maningrida, Elcho Island and Groote Eylandt using Embraer EMG-120 turboprops.

It also flies from Darwin to Dili, Townsville and Kununurra, among other destinations, using E170 regional jets.

Sharp says that a delegation of the Rex board plans to visit Darwin in coming weeks to hold discussions with key stakeholders.

Rex operates in most Australian states and territories, having expanded into Queensland and Western Australia in recent years after being awarded protected route rights.

Cirium's Fleets Analyzer shows that the regional carrier operates 55 Saab 340 turboprops.

US-headquartered Bristow entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 11 May, however that does not extend to most of its overseas operations.

Before it entered protection, activist shareholder Global Value Investment had proposed a rescue plan for the global helicopter operator, which included selling its two fixed-wing operations – Airnorth and UK-based Eastern Airways.

The latter operation was sold on 10 May, but it is not clear what it has planned for Airnorth.

Bristow acquired the Darwin-based airline in February 2015.

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