AIR New Zealand will start a twice-weekly direct service from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast on July 1, in a trial which offers rich rewards for our tourism industry.
The airline will use narrow-bodied, 170-seat aircraft.
The deal, that has been three years in the making, will offer easier access to the region for the 80,000 to 100,000 Kiwi tourists who visit each winter.
It will also allow the Coast's tourism industry to sell direct to the west coast of the United States.
American tourists will now be able to book direct to Maroochydore via an Auckland stopover.
Sunshine Coast Airport will establish customs, immigration and quarantine services ahead of the first flight - the first direct international commercial passenger connection to the region.
The airport previously hosted international charter flight trials.
The Air New Zealand trial will test demand for direct flights ahead of a decision on whether to commit to a permanent service.
To celebrate the new service, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia are offering a special introductory fare from Sunshine Coast to Auckland from AUD$149 per person one-way.
The sale ends Friday March 2 and a code share alliance with Virgin Australia means passengers can book through either airline's website.
"This is fantastic news," Acting Mayor Tim Dwyer said.
"With this announcement, the Sunshine Coast is, in one fell swoop, elevated from a regional economy to a serious player on the national and world stages.
"Not only will this flight connect the Coast with our biggest international market in New Zealand but also offers the opportunity to connect via Auckland to markets in the US and beyond. We are truly entering a whole new chapter for tourism and economic activity.
"And at $149 one-way, I'm already checking out New Zealand golf courses on the web."
Air New Zealand's GM Australia Cam Wallace said he was delighted to see Air New Zealand begin a great working relationship with the Sunshine Coast.
"We're looking forward to helping more Queenslanders make the trip across the ditch - whether they're visiting friends and family or enjoying the New Zealand ski season. We'll also be flying plenty of Kiwi tourists into the heart of the Sunshine Coast to enjoy some winter warmth," he said.
"While the initial season is 1 July to 18 September, if there's enough demand we'll look to make it a year-round service."
It comes after Sunshine Coast Destinations Ltd announced a record Christmas trading period after the disaster of the 2011 floods.
The tourism body has already planned a major New Zealand holiday promotion aimed at maintaining this trend.
Sunshine Coast Airport general manager Peter Pallot said Coast school groups, which each winter book tours to New Zealand ski fields, and expatriates returning to visit relatives would now have the choice of avoiding a drive to Brisbane to catch a flight.
"We believe there is a demonstrable demand between the two ports," Mr Pallot said.
"We just need to show it.
"This is a very important step in the future of the region's tourism industry and will help demonstrate demand for the airport and the need for future growth."
Mayor Bob Abbot said the deal was another great step forward for the airport.
"New Zealand is a very important market for us and the US is a bonus," Mr Abbot said.
Draft terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed $418.6 million re-development of the airport were last week released for public comment.
The EIS targets a 2020 completion date and features a new runway capable of taking larger aircraft, expansion of the regular public transport apron and expansion of the airport's aviation business precinct. An estimated 419 jobs will be created in construction leading to 2690 operational positions.
Public comment will be accepted up to 5pm on April 2.
AIR NEW ZEALAND FLIGHTS
Commencement date: Sunday 1 July to Tuesday 18 September, 2012
Fare: $149 one-way special introductory offer, valid until midnight March 2
Frequency: Sunday and Tuesday; Auckland - Sunshine Coast; Sunshine Coast - Auckland
Flights will connect with scheduled flights to North America, including to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.
Book at www.airnewzealand.com.au or www.virginaustralia.com.au
Aircraft type: Airbus A320
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