Life Travel Kiwi flight is Hobart’s first international arrival in two decades

Kiwi flight is Hobart’s first international arrival in two decades

The late-night decision to suspend flights was quick and final. Photo: AP
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“Well ladies and gentlemen, after 20 years, a warm welcome back to Hobart.”

And with that announcement, shortly after touchdown at Hobart International Airport, Tasmania was an international destination once more.

On Thursday morning, Air New Zealand flight NZ197 from Auckland landed slightly ahead of schedule.

It was the first direct international flight since 1998, when Air New Zealand wound up a Hobart-Christchurch service.

New Zealand’s national carrier has revived the route with help from the federal and state governments, scheduling return flights twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

Those onboard the inaugural flight were treated with champagne and cake, with moving scenes of family reunifications on landing.

For hard-hit tourism operators, hopes are high the new route can help restore their COVID-battered industry.

“We’ve been talking about this flight for decades,” Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said.

“Auckland is a city of 1.5 million people. And every time you open up a new market like a direct flight to Tasmania, we generally see a tripling of visitation.

“For New Zealand, that’s from 20,000 visitors each year so over time we think that will be 50,000 but it’s going to take a few years to build up.”

Tourism Tasmania chief executive John Fitzgerald, who was in Auckland for the occasion, called it a thrilling and historic day.

The occasion was such even Premier Peter Gutwein showed up as part of the welcoming committee.

However, it may be some time before Tasmanian tourism businesses notice a difference.

Thursday’s flight was less than half full – which Air New Zealand attributed to tickets going on sale just a fortnight ago, and lingering nerves from COVID-19.

“We’re excited it’s getting underway but it’s going to take a little bit of time to build up,” Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said.

The federal government has pledged more than $80 million towards the return of international flights, much of which has gone towards an airport upgrade.

Government funding is also underwriting Air New Zealand to take a punt on the route, which is not uncommon in the aviation industry.

Mt Gutwein wouldn’t be drawn on the state government’s contribution, saying only it was “modest”.

Mr Foran said he was optimistic for the route’s future, which could lead to a third weekly flight, or the addition of a Hobart-Christchurch service.

“The loads are feeling pretty comfortable at this stage,” he said.

“As we get into peak season we’ll probably look to add on a third [Hobart-Auckland] flight, possibly on a Tuesday.

“My guess is that Auckland-Hobart is likely to gain momentum as people become more and more comfortable with dealing with safety issues.”

  • The reporter travelled on the flight from Auckland to Hobart


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