Newcastle Airport will have international flights for the first time in 16 years from November 2018 when Virgin Australia commences a seasonal service to New Zealand.
The airline plans to fly between Newcastle and Auckland three times a week with Boeing 737-800s, with the inaugural flight to take off on November 22 2018.
The seasonal offering will run until February 17 2019, Virgin Australia and Newcastle Airport said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Newcastle Airport, located about 76nm north of Sydney in the NSW Hunter, last had international service in 2001 and 2002, when New Zealand-based Freedom Air offered nonstop flights to Auckland.
The airport shares the runway with RAAF Base Williamtown and is owned by the Newcastle City and Port Stephens councils.
Currently, residents of the NSW Hunter travelling internationally first make their way to Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney (by air or three hours by ground transportation) before heading overseas.
Newcastle Airport has regular public transport (RPT) flights from FlyPelican, Jetstar, QantasLink, Regional Express and Virgin Australia.
Newcastle Airport master plan foreshadows traffic doubling by 2036
In calendar 2017, Newcastle Airport handled 1.29 million passengers, up 4.4 per cent from 1.24 million in the prior corresponding period.
The airport’s master plan, released in March 2018, forecasts passenger numbers increasing to 2.6 million by 2036, comprising 2.3 million domestic passengers and 360,300 international passengers.
“There is enormous and enthusiastic local community demand from both leisure and business travellers for the airport to expand passenger services to include international flights,” the master plan said.
“In preparation for this vital step, we have already completed an international arrivals and departure fit-out, including installing the necessary security technology, IT technology, passenger screening equipment and furniture for the border agencies.”
When the service kicks off in November, Newcastle will be the 13th airport in Australia with scheduled international flights alongside Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Port Hedland, Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Townsville.
While Broome welcomed Silkair in June, those were charters rather than scheduled services.
Virgin Australia general manager for network, revenue and alliances Russell Shaw the new flight would offer the regional New South Wales community increased travel choices and convenience, as well as a more seamless international travel experience.
“With this direct flight, local residents will arrive in Auckland within three hours, ensuring they have more time to enjoy the breath-taking sights and incredible experiences New Zealand is famous for,” Shaw said in a statement.
“The Greater Hunter Region will also benefit from increased tourism opportunities, with New Zealanders now able to travel direct to Newcastle and explore the region and all it has to offer including wineries, restaurants and the pristine beaches.”
Virgin Australia flies to Brisbane and Melbourne from Newcastle.
Today we’ve announced direct flights between Newcastle and Auckland, making Virgin Australia the first airline to operate Trans-Tasman flights from Newcastle Airport in 16 years. Flights will operate from 22 November 2018 to 17 February 2019. https://t.co/uveus1LLpW pic.twitter.com/TdyUKh0Wds
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) July 18, 2018
Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock said there was strong community support for an international flight.
“New Zealand is our number one unserved market, so it is fitting that the first flight through our new international facilities will be servicing Auckland,” Cock said.
“This seasonal flight is a huge step forward in becoming a second international gateway into NSW.
“We express our gratitude to our shareholders and local, state and federal government stakeholders for supporting our vision to deliver the Airport the region deserves.”
Flight VA199 is scheduled to depart Newcastle at 1930 and arrive in Auckland at 0025 the next day.
Meanwhile, the VA198 is listed to take off from Auckland at 1710, touching down in Newcastle at 1845.
The service will run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack noted tourism statistics showed there were 2.845 million people travelling between Australia and New Zealand each year.
“These flights will help drive regional tourism growth and dispersal of visitors to Australia’s most popular tourism destinations,” McCormack said.
Is Asia next for Newcastle?
Looking further ahead, the introduction of new long-range narrowbody aircraft such as the A321LR could potentially open up new routes to South East Asia, chief analyst at aviation thinktank CAPA – Centre for Aviation Brendan Sobie said.
“The Newcastle region reported a 27 per cent increase in visitor traffic from Southeast Asia in 2017,” Sobie said on Wednesday.
“A link to a Southeast Asian hub such as Singapore would also help Newcastle attract visitors from China and Europe as well as persuade more local residents to use Newcastle Airport when heading to Asia or Europe.
“The new Virgin Australia service to Auckland could drive a new phase of growth for Newcastle.”
Newcastle-Auckland the latest part of Virgin Australia’s trans-Tasman network adjustments
In April, Air New Zealand said it would to walk away from its alliance with Virgin Australia on trans-Tasman routes, preferring to go it alone after seven years in partnership.
As a consequence, both carriers have been adjusting their networks between the two countries ahead of the seven-year tie-up formally ending in October.
Virgin Australia is boosting frequencies to to Auckland, Queenstown and Wellington, while Air New Zealand plans to boost its schedule to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. The Australian carrier has also flagged deploying its low-cost carrier (LCC) Tigerair Australia on trans-Tasman routes.
Further, Air New Zealand said in June it had signed a codeshare agreement with Qantas covering domestic destinations in Australia and New Zealand.
An analysis of figures from Australia’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) shows Air New Zealand held 32.7 per cent market share for travel between Australia and New Zealand in calendar 2017, followed by Qantas on 18 per cent.
Virgin Australia carried the third most passengers in calendar 2017 at 14.5 per cent, while Jetstar was fourth with 10.9 per cent. A host of fifth-freedom carriers such as China Airlines, LATAM and Singapore Airlines made up the rest.