Regional Express hires 40 pilots defying global downturn
After Virgin Australia made his job redundant in April, pilot Anthony Kerr drove tractors, worked as a builder's labourer and even started his own gardening business.
But now Mr Kerr is about to return to the skies with Regional Express - believed to be the only airline in the Asia-Pacific, if not the world, that is expanding.
Rex has already recruited 40 pilots for its growing operations, The Daily Telegraph revealed. All of them are Australian. It has also hired 14 flights attendants, with another 30 on the way.
"It really is incredible given what's going on," Mr Kerr told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.
"Every airline in the world that I can think of is shrinking but they've decided to expand their network and employ more pilots.
"There's no-one in the Asia-Pacific that I am aware of that is doing that," he said.
Rex deputy chairman and former federal transport minister John Sharp agreed.
"We are probably the only ones," Mr Sharp said. "All of our recruitment is from the former ranks of Qantas, Virgin and Tiger."
They were either made redundant or resigned to join Rex.
"People think we are crazy," Mr Sharp said. "But who would have thought we could do what we have already done with Rex?"
Regional Express began after the failure of Ansett and regional subsidiaries such as Hazelton and Kendell.
About 20 Australian airlines have gone under since then.
Rex recently raised $150 million to fund its growth and its share price is up more than 450 per cent since March.
"This has got to be the best time ever to develop another domestic airline in Australia," Mr Sharp said. "So we are."
From March 1, Rex will begin flying between Sydney and Melbourne, then to Brisbane at Easter.
Rex has already leased six Boeing 737s for its fledgling domestic operation; some of the jets are ex-Virgin.
Mr Kerr said it was "very likely" he could pilot one of the planes he first flew for his former employer.
"I was at Virgin for 19 years and flew the 737 for 15 of those," he said.
Then he piloted the Airbus 330, mainly between Australia and Hong Kong.
However, Virgin canned those flights in the weeks before it collapsed as COVID-19 lockdowns stopped nearly all international air travel.
"One of the decisions of the Virgin administrators was that they would get rid of the A330 completely," Mr Kerr said. "My job was redundant."
About 40 per cent of Australian pilots are currently working outside the industry due to the pandemic.
Mr Kerr said it had occurred to him that he may never pilot a jet again.
"But I was pretty determined to make sure that that didn't happen," he said.
Having witnessed the 1989 Australian pilots' dispute and Ansett's demise in 2001, Mr Kerr said he noticed that the pilots who returned to the skies were the ones that stayed close to the industry while they were grounded.
So after Virgin cut him loose he enrolled in further training in aviation management. And before Rex came looking for pilots, he had agreed to fly single-engine Cessna Caravans for an outback tourism operation.
Upheaval happens "in aviation from time to time but this is by far the worst, there's no question," Mr Kerr said.
"I'm so excited about this job. It's an amazing opportunity to get back in a jet."
Originally published as Regional Express hires 40 pilots defying global downturn