THE argument for city folk to relocate to Australia's regional towns and cities is not a completely ridiculous one.

Compared to the capitals their property prices look almost affordable, land blocks are huge and the health and mental benefits of that clean country air go alright as well.

But there's one crucial element that's always left out of this discussion - access.

Getting in and out of Australia's smaller cities is not only a time-consuming pain, it's bloody expensive.

A Q & A audience members gained a round of applause when he pointed this out at an Alice Springs filming of the ABC program last night.

The man said he and his wife had booked their honeymoon next month and it was costing more to fly from Alice Springs to Adelaide, return, that it was to get from Adelaide to Croatia and back.

"Tourism would be higher and more people would live in Alice Springs if the prices weren't so expensive," he said.


Pauline Hanson said local landing fees where to blame when she tried to explain
Pauline Hanson said local landing fees where to blame when she tried to explain "regional aviation economics" to her Facebook followers in April. Facebook

At the time of publishing, the cost of the next available flight from Sydney to Alice Springs was at $711, whereas Sydney to Adelaide was as cheap as $158.

If you were to plan ahead, as the airlines recommend, flights to Adelaide were similarly priced, about $175 to $250, but the trip to Alice Springs was just below the $700 mark.

Chair of Tourism Central Australia Dale McIver didn't argue with the questioner, saying she had sat down with the two major airlines that fly to the remote Northern Territory town, and said their explanations didn't suitably justify the high prices.

"We have locals here in Alice Springs that will drive 450km from Alice Springs to Uluru to get a cheaper flight."
Territorian MP Warren Snowdon said the explanation was "pretty simple".

"Price gouging" he said. "We don't have control over those airlines. They make their choices. They make the decisions. They know they've got a captive market. So they milk us."

In Western Australia, the high costs of flights to regional airports has made such an impact a parliamentary inquiry has recently committed to investigate the issue.

WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the committee had the power to "get to the bottom of why these fares are so expensive and give airlines the opportunity to provide solutions".

The question over the huge cost of flying to regional Australia also captured the attention of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson earlier this year.

In a lengthy Facebook post and accompanying video, Senator Hanson's explainer of "regional aviation economics" said costs were driven by demand, competition and the cost of operation, and that council-set landing costs were the highest drivers of flight costs.

It's not that we want to second-guess Ms Hanson, but we thought we should straight to authorities to find out for ourselves.

According to experts, it's a combination of landing fees, fuel costs, aircraft and crew costs, as well levels of demand and the volume of traffic on any route.

A spokesman for Qantas told the airline was aware of community frustration about pricing.

"We've been in discussions with regional communities for some time about their concerns on pricing," the spokesman said in a statement.

"We can understand it's frustrating when sale fares on longer routes are cheaper than some regional fares, but this has a lot to do with economies of scale."

Qantas explained the per-kilometre cost for smaller aircraft in smaller markets was "significantly higher".

"These dynamics are true to regional routes across Australia as well as domestic markets overseas," the spokesman said.

While acknowledging costs were high, the airline said it was still possible to get a bargain in an out-of-the-way destination.

"We have regular sales to and from destinations across regional Australia."

Qantas chose not to respond questions from about Mr Snowdon's claims of "price gouging".

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman said the company is "committed to providing competitive airfares on regional routes.

"Airfares on these routes are driven by a combination of factors, including demand, competition, operating costs and airport pricing and taxes.

"Virgin always encourages people to book as early as possible to access cheapest flights."

Regional carrier Regional Express Airlines (REX) has previously said it couldn't compete with major carriers servicing big city destinations.

"Unfortunately the cost of doing business in a regional marketplace isn't conducive to producing those types of fare levels," a spokesman said.