ACT News

Canberra Airport wins back 'international' title after patchy history

For more than a decade the rare overseas flight to depart or land at Canberra International Airport was an occasion.

Managing director of Canberra Airport Group Stephen Byron says the new facilities are equipped to handle up to eight ...
Managing director of Canberra Airport Group Stephen Byron says the new facilities are equipped to handle up to eight million passengers a year. Photo: Karleen Minney

There was for example, a "great buzz of excitement" when not one but three jets flew into the city in 2007, while waiting for fog to clear in Sydney.

And it was always a big deal when ACT Rugby Union chartered planes from the capital to New Zealand during finals, bringing customs officers in and flying fans out.

International flights are on the way for Canberra Airport.
International flights are on the way for Canberra Airport. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Sometime between 1998 and now, the "international" was quietly dropped from its name, in line with deflated expectations.

Now, the airport can rightfully reclaim that title.

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Singapore Airlines has confirmed reports it will fly directly to Canberra from September, with flights starting at about $650 return to Singapore.

It's a huge win for the ACT government, which has longbeen campaigning for international flights and a hotly anticipated boost in tourism numbers.

Flights to Singapore and Wellington, New Zealand, are scheduled from September.
Flights to Singapore and Wellington, New Zealand, are scheduled from September. Photo: Rohan Thomson

It was for years an unsuccessful courting.

Things got serious in 2012 when the government, with tourism agencies and local businesses, formed a taskforce with the responsibility of lobbying airlines.

Government and airport representatives attended meeting after meeting with officials in New Zealand and Singapore, in renewed attempts to woo carriers, both budget and full cost.

The Singapore Airlines deal is the latest chapter in the airport's patchy history with international flights.

It began life at the Fairbairn site as a RAAF base, before the lease was sold to the Capital Airport Group in 1998 and granted a limited international licence in 1997.

Earlier, in 1992, a news report suggested Canberra was "in many ways" an international airport, when it became home to the first domestic terminal to offer a one-stop check in service for international passengers.

A series of international charter flights between Canberra and Malaysia were scheduled the year the international licence was granted. In 2004, the airport won regularly scheduled but short-lived flights to Fiji with Air Pacific.

Officials identified that the airport lacked the facilities to match its ambition.

In 2006, $50 million was spent upgrading the airport's main runway, in the hopes of bringing international flights closer to reality.

The upgrade also meant heavy VIP aircraft could land safely, allowing foreign dignitaries to fly direct to the capital.

Its terminal was the subject of a $480 million "transformation" over five years, completed in 2014.

The new facilities, including business lounges and baggage handling areas, are equipped to handle up to eight million passengers a year, and could be expanded to meet the needs of up to 12 million, general manager Stephen Byron​ said.

The airport services about three million passengers a year.