Direct NZ flights risk retaliation, analyst says

Qantas and Virgin Australia said yesterday they had no plans at this stage to fly directly from Canberra to New Zealand, as a senior aviation analyst warned any airline taking up the challenge was likely to face retaliation from carriers already flying across the Tasman from Sydney and Melbourne.

With the ACT government ramping up its campaign for direct international flights to the nation's capital, beginning with New Zealand, Australia's two biggest airlines said they continuously reviewed customer demand for new services.

A Qantas spokesman said: ''Canberra-based customers can choose to fly via Sydney or Melbourne to connect seamlessly to a service to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch''.

Virgin Australia, which has an alliance with Air New Zealand, said ''at this time there are no specific plans'' for direct Canberra-New Zealand passenger flights.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation said yesterday there was a possibility direct flights between Canberra and New Zealand would work but it would depend on demand, frequency of services and how deeply rival airlines cut fares to protect existing schedules via Sydney and Melbourne.

CAPA executive chairman Peter Harbison said there was a ''likelihood of retaliation'' by airlines that had no interest in direct services working between Canberra and New Zealand.

''This is the key bit: if you did start up a direct service then they [rival airlines] would just white-ant you over their hubs,'' Mr Harbison told The Canberra Times.

''In other words, just put in cheaper prices via Sydney or via Melbourne. That is even apart from the uncertainty about whether the route would work on a point-to-point basis.''

A taskforce of Canberra's business, tourism and government elite meets next month to lobby for six return flights to New Zealand each week by March next year.

ACT Tourism Minister Andrew Barr said earlier this week he had had positive talks with Air New Zealand, Wellington Airport and Wellington's tourism group in New Zealand last month.

An Air New Zealand spokesman yesterday said: ''Air New Zealand regularly considers new routes. However, we do not comment on speculation as to what new destinations might eventuate''.

Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron has said there is a case to support three flights a week to Wellington and three to Auckland, as well as services to Singapore.

Mr Harbison said yesterday Adelaide for a long time did not have direct international flights as airlines transferred passengers through Melbourne and Sydney on to domestic operations.

''But, eventually, Adelaide did get direct services and that seems to work pretty well,'' Mr Harbison said.

''Adelaide is obviously a bigger town than Canberra but it doesn't have as much business and government.

''So the instinct would be yes, there is a possibility [direct Canberra-New Zealand flights] could work.''

The second phase of Canberra Airport's $420 million redevelopment is underway, with the airport's western concourse scheduled to open in March next year.