Canberra Airport held its open day on the weekend, as the government joins the airport's calls for international flights to the capital. Photo: Richard Briggs
The ACT government is stepping up its push to bring international flights to the territory, establishing a taskforce of Canberra's business and tourism leaders to lobby airlines and industry groups.
With the second phase of Canberra Airport's $420 million redevelopment underway, Tourism Minister Andrew Barr said now was the time for the territory to make its case for direct international routes, beginning with New Zealand.
The taskforce will include representatives from the Tourism Industry Council, the Canberra Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the government and Canberra Airport.
The group will convene in early April and its first goal will be to secure six return flights to New Zealand each week by the time the airport's western concourse opens in March next year.
Mr Barr said he had already had positive discussions with Tourism Australia about the proposal, and with Air New Zealand, Wellington Airport and Positively Wellington Tourism during a visit to New Zealand last month.
There was a consensus that Canberra had the business traffic to warrant flights to New Zealand, but a case had to be made that there would be passengers travelling for holidays as well.
''We think the government-to-government travel between Canberra and Wellington is particularly strong, but equally we'll want to focus on the leisure side, so you're filling the back of the plane, too,'' he said.
''The reason for pulling together this group is because they know their equivalent counterparts in New Zealand.
''We want to make sure they're not just working as a Team Canberra effort but are also building those relationships with their New Zealand counterparts.''
Mr Barr said the campaign would be ''multi-pronged'' and was likely to involve advertising that would sell New Zealand as a destination to Canberrans and Canberra as a destination for New Zealanders.
He said one advantage for the territory was that New Zealanders were looking for new Australian experiences having already ''done'' Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
''In the end, to make a flight work, there will need to be a commitment from both Canberra and Wellington to advertise in each other's markets,'' he said.
Beyond New Zealand, Mr Barr said the other obvious international route from Canberra was Singapore because it served as a base airport for all other international destinations.
''But the initial focus is on New Zealand,'' he said.
Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron said he believed there was a case to support about three flights a week to Wellington and three to Auckland, as well as routes to Singapore.
''The question is which airline?'' he said.
''Will it be Qantas, will it be Air New Zealand, will it be Virgin or will it be Emirates that capitalise on it?''
Mr Barr said the taskforce would need to secure international flights at least six months ahead of the opening of the western concourse to ensure passengers were buying tickets will in advance of flights commencing.