Canberra International Airport's first Singapore Airlines flights open ACT to the world
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Canberra International Airport's first Singapore Airlines flights open ACT to the world

It's not every day flights are greeted with a champagne breakfast and a water cannon.

But so it went for Singapore Airlines' long-anticipated Capital Express route, which made history Wednesday morning as its first flight landed at Canberra International Airport.

Water cannons greeted the first Singapore Airlines flight.

Water cannons greeted the first Singapore Airlines flight.Credit:Jay Cronan

Its arrival marked the first time Canberra held regular international flights since Air Pacific's brief service of flights to Fiji in 2004.

The 266-seat Boeing 777-200 was eager for the special occasion, arriving from Singapore nearly half an hour before its scheduled 8.35am arrival.

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The first customers to disembark from the Capital Express were greeted with flowers

The first customers to disembark from the Capital Express were greeted with flowersCredit:Jay Cronan

Crowds gathered around the window as flight SQ291 - which was about 95 per cent full - touched down on the runway, toasting champagne glasses as the plane rolled under ceremonial water cannons fired from waiting fire trucks.

After a short hour-and-a-half stopover, the re-fuelled and re-packed aircraft took off for the second half of its Capital Express route, heading across the ditch to the New Zealand capital Wellington. Again there were a few seats spare.

Flight attendants and staff handed passengers flowers as they arrived at Canberra's international terminal, not all of the travellers realising what the fuss was about.

Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron said sales for the four round trips a week had been "strong" through until Christmas.

He said his family had envisioned Friday's historic moment at Canberra since his father Terry Snow bought the dilapidated airport in the late 1990s with a goal to create the world's best small airport.

"We are [the NSW region's] only curfew-free international airport," he said.

"We can be an airport where there are no issues with slots, no bilateral restrictions, an airport where there are no delays getting to your gate."

Mr Byron said the airport had the capacity to double its passenger numbers.

Singapore Airlines' executive vice president Mak Swee Wah said the airline would "definitely build the service up" to a daily route if it met demand.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said this was the government's next priority for the international airport, while its medium-term goal was to expand the airport to other low-cost carriers.

Mr Barr was to be one of 38 business class passengers on the first Canberra to Wellington flight, and is set to return on the first Wellington to Canberra service, arriving back on Wednesday evening.

"This is a fantastic day for Canberra," he said.

"It opens a range of opportunities to our residents and surrounding residents to Singapore and South-east Asia but then onto Europe."

He said the flights would benefit jobs, trade, investment, education, tourism and regional freight.

While the ACT government has announced two rapid buses will go directly to Canberra Airport from 2020 – one from Belconnen via the city, and the other from Lanyon - Mr Barr said he was working with the airport to expand transport options as demand increases.

"There is already an existing airport bus service which is privately operated which we need to be conscious of," he said.

New Zealand high commissioner Chris Seed said the linkage of Canberra and Wellington would fasten the ties between the similar capital cities.

Direct flights to Wellington are expected to bring in $45 million to the ACT economy a year.

The first Capital Express route comes five days after the airport unveiled its $18-million business-style international departure lounge, which includes a duty free shop and a bar/cafe.

Customers travelling from Canberra to either Wellington or Singapore will have access to the Virgin Australia Lounge, but those transiting in the capital would not.

The Australian Federal Police said officers had been training for months to ensure to safety of the international airport.

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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