Newcastle Airport will have an international flight for at least the next three years after Virgin Australia agreed to maintain its seasonal nonstop service to Auckland that operated over the recent summer holiday period.
Virgin Australia will resume its three times weekly Newcastle-Auckland nonstop flights on November 21 2019 and February 16 2020, Newcastle Airport said on Tuesday. The route is served with Boeing 737-800s featuring eight business class seats and 168 economy class seats.
The timeframe and schedules were similar to the seasonal flights started in late 2018, when Virgin Australia become the first airline to operate trans-Tasman services from Newcastle Airport in 16 years.
Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock said Virgin Australia’s agreement to continue services between Newcastle and New Zealand for at least the next three years was a “great sign of confidence in the region.”
“On the back of the successes of last year, we are thrilled to provide some clarity and certainty around the longevity of these flights, which cement us as an international airport,” Cock said in a statement.
Figures from Newcastle Airport indicated the flights had generated $5.4 million in economic benefits.
Cock said the first season was “a real success”, as 38 per cent of leisure travellers from New Zealand had visited the NSW Hunter region for the first time, indicating that the direct service had stimulated new demand.
Further, he said 30 per cent of Australian leisure travellers also made their inaugural visit to Auckland on the direct service.
“With our international capability now confirmed, we’re strengthening the region’s reputation as a key destination for both domestic and international travels and a second international gateway into NSW,” Cock said.
Prior to Virgin Australia’s Auckland flights, 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 Royal Australian Air Force (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.
Virgin Australia general manager for network and revenue management Russell Shaw said the seasonal service provided the regional New South Wales community with more seamless international travel connections during the busy holiday period.
An analysis of international passenger data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics indicated the Virgin Australia operated 71 flights on the route between November 22 2018 and February 17 2019.
There were 36 inbound flights which carried 3,493 passengers, while the 35 outbound flights had 3,194 passengers on board.
The figures indicated an average load factor of 55 per cent on inbound services and 52 per cent on outbound flights, given Virgin Australia’s 737-800s have 176 seats.
Virgin Australia’s Newcastle-Auckland schedule
|Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday
|Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday
*The flights will operated during a 13-week period between November 21 2019 and February 16 2020
Source: Newcastle Airport