EDITORIAL: Crunch time on Newcastle Airport's international flight demand

Virgin’s announcement on Wednesday it will trial direct flights from Williamtown to Auckland likely ranks among the biggest days in Newcastle Airport’s history.

Three-hour flights between our southern neighbour are a logical fledgling step in the airport’s bid to offer international services. The shorter flight precludes the need to address the necessity for passengers to sleep, a reality for most destinations from Australia due to the tyranny of distance.

It is important to remember that this is a trial during the summer period, not a full-time commitment to fly internationally out of Williamtown. That said, it is the opportunity that those lobbying for international carriers to pay attention have been working towards so diligently behind the scenes. 

Ultimately, though, its success rests in the hands of the flying public to make the flights a commercially viable prospect for Virgin. 

As the Newcastle Herald noted in January when FlyPelican unveiled plans to fly to Adelaide directly, any new direct destination from the airport is a two-way affair.

Just as Hunter residents will have their chance to explore Auckland, so too will New Zealanders be offered an opportunity to head directly into the Hunter. 

This is no mistake, as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack told media on Wednesday. “Importantly, these flights will help drive regional tourism growth and dispersal of visitors to Australia’s most popular tourism destinations,” he said. 

The airport’s historical forays into overseas destinations have failed to survive. Norfolk Air’s trips in 2007 were short-lived, while Freedom Air could not make the region’s links to Auckland work for more than a year in 2002.  

Those were also different times for the airport, which has become a mainstay of the region’s visitor economy and continues to grow its passenger numbers steadily. Its $1.6 million customs and immigration facilities did not exist at the time, and the air travel industry in 2002 was a very different beast. Qantas established Jetstar in 2003, and the then Virgin Blue had started just two years prior, flying only between Brisbane and Sydney. Despite the precedents for international flights, this may prove the most definitive test for the region’s appetite to avoid Sydney Airport. It could be the beginning of a new era or another footnote to our aviation history. The final route is up to passengers. 

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