As “The Big Dry” continues to grip Australia, the nation’s airlines are coming to the assistance of their drought-ravaged regional customers with programs worth more than $A4 million.
The severe drought affecting regional Eastern Australia has already prompted the Federal Government to announce $A1 billion in drought relief measures as farmers struggle to cope.
The nation’s most populous state, New South Wales, has been declared 100 percent drought affected with less than 10mm of winter rain during the past month in western, north-west and central areas of the state.
Independent regional carrier Regional Express kicked off the round of donations with an announcement it would set aside $1 million for drought relief.
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The airline has set up a Drought Relief Fund available to community groups working to alleviate the impact of the drought and will donate $A4 in travel on the Rex network for every $A1 raised by the groups.
The airline also plans to collect donations in all flights to provide cash contributions for drought relief.
“Rex’s heart is in the Country, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all residents of communities in regional Australia who are facing unimaginable hardship as they struggle to make ends meet and keep their crop and stock alive,” said Rex deputy chairman John Sharp.
“Rex has the largest network in regional and rural Australia with 60 destinations, and it behooves us to stand by our loyal regional customers in their time of greatest need.”
Australia’s biggest airline, Qantas, plans to deliver $A3 million in drought relief, including $A2 million from its own coffers..
This will include an immediate $A1 million cash donation to Rural Aid as well as initiatives by its airlines to raise another $A1 million with customers, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the company.
The passenger initiatives will include two special fundraising charter flights from Sydney to Tamworth and Longreach in October and allowing customers to donate frequent flyer points adding Rural Aid to the list of charity redemption partners in its rewards store.
The airline said it would also support employees who volunteer their time to Rural Aid’s Farm Rescue program and it would be placing Rural Aid barrels in lounges and gates
The farm rescue program allows people to volunteer their time to help repair farming equipment, fix homes and build fences on rural properties around Australia.
“Qantas started in the outback. Many of our staff live there and we have a lot of farming families who supply everything from beef to broccoli that we serve customers,’’ Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said. “We feel we have a duty to help these communities who are doing it so tough.”
Virgin Australia said it would be setting up collection points in airports, domestic flights and its offices to collect money for farmers.
The airline is partnering with the Australian Red Cross and from Monday passengers would be able to make a donation to the Australian Red Cross Appeal “Help Aussie Farmers” onboard its domestic flights and in the airline’s lounges.
Virgin will also be collecting donations from its 10,000 staff members.
“The Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal “Help Aussie Farmers” is a great way to support farming families dealing with the impact of this severe drought,” Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti said.
“Funds raised through the appeal will be distributed to drought-affected communities across Australia through partners working in these communities.
“Virgin Australia flies to many destinations which are impacted by the drought, and as a proud Australian airline we want to harness the community spirit which brings us together in tough times.”