Government contracts to operate air services to Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands will be up for tender together in 2016, budget papers show.
Currently, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development pays Air New Zealand a subsidy to fly to Norfolk Island, located about 900nm off Australia’s east coast in the Pacific Ocean.
The Department also underwrites Virgin Australia’s flights from Perth to Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, about 1400nm north of Perth in the Indian Ocean.
“The Government will provide funding over three years from 2015-16 to underwrite essential air services to Norfolk Island and the Indian Ocean Territories respectively,” the budget papers published on Tuesday evening said.
“To enable a combined tender process in 2016, the Government has varied the contract with Air New Zealand for the provision of air services to Norfolk Island to align its expiry date with that of the contract for the Indian Ocean Territories services provided by Virgin Australia.”
The amount of subsidy to be paid for the three years to 2017/18 was not disclosed because the contracts with the two airlines were commercial-in-confidence, the government said.
Air NZ commenced service to Norfolk Island in March 2012, taking over the route from Norfolk Air. The airline currently flies to Norfolk Island twice a week from Sydney, twice a week from Brisbane and with one flight a week from Auckland, in March 2012.
In June 2014, Air NZ’s contract was extended to July 31 2016.
Meanwhile, Virgin Australia began serving Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling Islands) in April 2010, when it was operating as Virgin Blue. It succeeded Cobham Aviation Services on the route.
Currently, Virgin flies non-stop from Perth to Christmas Island on Thursdays and operates a triangular Perth-Christmas Island-Cocos Island-Perth service on Saturdays and Perth-Cocos Island-Christmas Island-Perth on Mondays with Airbus A320s.
In 2009, the now defunct SkyAirWorld was awarded the contract to operate the services with an E-190, but the airline collapsed before it operated any services.
The budget papers also said the government planned to close the Phosphate Hill and Construction Camp detention centre on Christmas Island.