Air New Zealand Canberra flights not happening, despite Barr plea

Air New Zealand says it has no plans to schedule flights to Canberra Airport, despite lobbying from Chief Minister Andrew Barr as part of the government's push for international services. 

Air New Zealand won't commence flights to Canberra.
Air New Zealand won't commence flights to Canberra. Photo:

Last week Mr Barr used meetings with New Zealand government ministers, airlines and tourism authorities to pitch stronger links with Canberra and to continue efforts to bring international flights to the upgraded airport. 

Announcing a business case would be developed by the ACT Government to identify the benefits of flights for Air New Zealand and Auckland Airport, Mr Barr said international services could generate $50 million in annual benefits for the Canberra region and 400 new jobs.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Matt Bedford

However, the pitch appears to have left Air New Zealand unmoved.

When asked about bringing business and tourism passengers to Canberra or using the capital as a gateway link to other cities, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said no deal was expected. 

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"Air New Zealand is constantly assessing its route network, however, we don't have any current plans to operate flights to Canberra," she said in a statement. 

Discussions have also been ongoing with Singapore Airlines, after Mr Barr met with senior executives during a June 2014 trade delegation.

Singapore Airlines representatives declined to comment on negotiations with the ACT on Thursday.

The government's goal has long been considered an effective way to boost the ACT and regional economy but to-date no airline has taken up $1.1 million in funding for cooperative marketing, tourism links and business planning. 

Mr Barr said the new business case document for New Zealand flights would consider how many Canberrans take a bus to connect with international services, frequent flyer membership rates in the ACT and potential business from government and diplomatic representatives. 

As well as Singapore and New Zealand, territory officials have met with Qantas, Virgin, Emirates and Etihad Airways, including on overseas visits to Asia in 2013 and 2014. 

Canberra Airport group strongly backs the plan and has played an active role in the effort.

Mr Barr said Wellington City Council and tourism groups had sought stronger ties to Canberra. Securing direct international flights would be a long-term project for the government and the first carrier flying from overseas would have a first-mover advantage in the market.

"They're not something you can just rock up and announce. It requires a lot of work in the lead-up and that includes ensuring that you get both ends of the proposed route lined up," Mr Barr said. 

"By that I mean airports, tourism authorities, city councils, in the case of New Zealand also the national government." 

Sydney-based international airline and aviation industry expert Hans Mitterlechner said Canberra's international aspirations were well known in the international sector. 

"It is a very dynamic market and things may change, but the biggest problem Canberra might have is its proximity to Sydney," he said. 

"Airlines do think passengers will go through the nuisance of driving up to Sydney and parking the car, or taking a flight up if they can afford it. That's basically in reality what is between Canberra Airport and international flights." 

Mr Mitterlechner, a partner at specialist firm Three Consulting, said the first carrier to bring flights to the capital would have a significant monopoly. 

"Instead of having a couple of airlines flying from Sydney to Auckland, you would have only one air carrier flying from Canberra and that usually enables an operator to demand a premium for that service," he said.

He backed the development of the government's business case and said the wider capital region could include one million people, all potential passengers on a carrier's international flights.

"We would like to get airlines a piece of information they don't already have," Mr Mitterlechner said. 

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