Paul Phelan / Cairns

Qantas is deciding whether to rationalise its QantasLink regional airline network from five separate entities to two.

The move would see the creation of an all-jet operation embracing Air Connex - the former Impulse Airlines operation which operates eight Boeing 717s. The other arm would consolidate under one administration the group's fleet of 32 Bombardier Dash 8s which are currently flown by Southern Australian in Victoria, Eastern Australian from Sydney, and Brisbane-based Sunstate Airlines.

Three BAe 146s currently operated by Qantas-owned Southern Australian are expected to be transferred to National Jet Systems (NJS), which already operates 14 of the type for QantasLink on a wet-lease basis.

Qantas has not said whether it plans to acquire the NJS fleet, to continue the wet-lease agreement, or to replace it with additional 717s. The airline has suggested that the crews flying Southern Australian's three BAe 146s seek employment with Qantas' mainline operation or with NJS.

Qantas recently announced the acquisition of six ex-TWA 717s which will replace its BAe 146s, and says any restructuring that flows from the review would not result in reduced operations, but would be aimed at "ensuring the long-term viability of our regional operations". The new 717s will take QantasLink's total fleet to 76 aircraft, operating more than 2,500 flights weekly and employing more than 2,000 staff.

The carrier has also built commercial links with two formerly Ansett-owned regional carriers, an independent carrier in the Northern Territory and another in south-east Queensland. It is planning to codeshare with Aeropelican, the shuttle connecting Sydney with nearby Newcastle, and has signed an interlining agreement with Skywest Airlines, which operates five Fokker 50s on regional link services in Western Australia.

The two airlines will join Qantas' frequent-flier scheme, as will Darwin-based remote area commuter operator Air North, with a fleet of 32 aircraft, and Sunshine Express, which links Brisbane with Queensland's Sunshine Coast and Thangool, which is a nearby coalfields centre.

Source: Flight International