Wellington Airport forms an important part of New Zealand’s transportation network. The airport handles close to a million international passengers annually and has somewhere in the vicinity of 70 scheduled international flights per week.
Long-established carriers at the airport include Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways, Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia. Together, they link New Zealand’s capital to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Nadi as well as an array of domestic cities.
But there is one carrier shaking things up at Wellington Airport: Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Launching flights in September 2016, the airline links Wellington with the international city of Singapore. Originally flown via Canberra and operated by a Boeing 777-200, the flights were dubbed the “Capital Express”; referring to the route linking the capital cities of three countries.
This service was designed to satisfy the demand of the business market, which makes up a large component of Wellington’s international air traffic. It links Wellington to one of Asia Pacific’s largest hubs, allowing for a seamless connection at Singapore Changi Airport to Asia, Europe and beyond.
“The return of a wide-body business product has been well received by the market,” Wellington Airport manager for airline development Mike Vincent told Australian Aviation in June.
“Airfares between Wellington and long-haul destinations have reduced as a result of increased competition, providing more opportunities for residents to travel. Wide-body capability has resulted in a significant increase in airfreight handled at the airport – more than doubled since Singapore Airlines started.”
Responding to growth
A boost in passenger traffic, thanks to SIA’s widebody aircraft, has led to a number of advantages for both Wellington Airport and the travelling public.
Flown end to end on the same aircraft, SIA opened up a convenient link for New Zealanders eager to experience an international product for the duration of their journey. In addition to the simpler, more streamlined experience, passengers are enjoying an overall reduction in airfares on flights into Asia.
“(This is the) first direct service to a global hub airport, providing connectivity through Singapore with 120 cities in Asia and 20 in Europe, as well as being a carrier with significant presence in Asia who is strongly selling Wellington as a destination,” Vincent said.
An increase in international travellers inevitably leads to an increase in demands on the airport. To meet expectations, Wellington Airport has committed to a program of enhancements designed to modernise and improve the customer experience.
“Wellington Airport has a continuous improvement programme to improve its runway for wide-body aircraft,” Vincent said.
“In 2016, we upgraded and extended the southern pier of our terminal to accommodate more aircraft and improve the passenger experience.”
Additionally, the airport has added a new public transport hub as well as a multi-level carpark to improve the departures experience, while the building of a 134-room Rydges Hotel is underway, aimed at catering for the boost in international business and leisure travellers.
VIDEO: The arrival of Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) inaugural Singapore-Canberra-Wellington flight in September 2016, as shown on Wellington Airport’s YouTube channel.
Moving to Melbourne
With the success of flights into Wellington, SIA tweaked the service in May 2018, dropping the Canberra stopover in favour of a call at Melbourne. The new schedule runs four times weekly, utilising a Boeing 777-200 in a two-class layout; while Canberra continues to be served separately as part of a triangulated service with Sydney.
The new routing increases competition on the route between Wellington and Melbourne, boosting options for trans-Tasman travellers. Due to fifth freedom rights the airline is able to sell tickets on this leg of the journey. Additionally, this provides options for increased services into the future.
“There is growth being achieved through higher load factors and the switch to Melbourne provides new connections within Australia and at the Singapore hub, which will be able to support frequency increases in the future,” Vincent said.
“Demand for long-haul travel between Wellington and Singapore has been high, and the switch to Melbourne provides more seats available for the Wellington market due to the additional flight options between Melbourne and Singapore. Wellington-Melbourne is a large local market and provides the airline a stronger base to grow capacity in the future.”
At present, SIA is Wellington’s only wide body operator. And with arguably the best business class on the route and an unmatched cargo capacity, it remains to be seen how rivals Qantas, Virgin Australia or Air New Zealand will respond.
Wellington Airport has proposed extending its current runway by 355m at the southern end, arguing it would enable more long-haul widebody flights and support the local economy. The proposal was first raised in 2012. Currently, the total runway length of Runway 16/34 is 2,081m.
That effort is currently on hold, with the airport seeking to re-submit is plans to the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority after pilots challenged the proposal in the courts.