Australia

Emotional reunions as Hobart welcomes its first international flight in more than 20 years

Hobart International Airport was filled with reunited families and friends as it welcomed its first international flight in more than 20 years. Source: SBS News

The flight, made possible by the trans-Tasman travel bubble arrangement with New Zealand, saw Hobart's international airport filled with reunited family and friends.

Hobart International Airport was filled with reunited families and friends as it welcomed its first international flight in more than 20 years.

Air New Zealand flight NZ197 direct from Auckland arrived in Hobart just before 11am on Thursday - the first international flight to arrive in the city since 1998. 

New Zealand's national carrier has revived the route with help from the federal and state governments, scheduling return flights twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

"It's fixed a misnomer that's been (in our name) for 23 years," CEO of Hobart International Airport Norris Carter said. 

For hard-hit tourism operators, hopes are high the new route can help restore their COVID-battered industry.

"We've been talking about this flight for decades," Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said.

"Auckland is a city of 1.5 million people. And every time you open up a new market was a direct flight to Tasmania, we generally see a tripling of visitation.

"For New Zealand, that's from 20,000 visitors each year so over time we think that will be 50,000 but it's going to take a few years to build up."

'We're just thrilled it can finally happen'

Seventeen-year-old aviation enthusiast Jesse Ovington watched the flight land from an area overlooking the airport.

"I've been plane-spotting at Hobart Airport for a few years now. I'm really interested in aviation and it's really exciting to have an international flight after 23 years," he told SBS News.

"It's a new aircraft type for Hobart Airport as well, an Airbus A321."

17-year-old aviation enthusiast Jesse Ovington.
17-year-old aviation enthusiast Jesse Ovington.
SBS News: Sarah Maunder

One woman from Launceston drove to Hobart to greet her sister, who was on the flight from Auckland.

"We hired a mini-bus to get here," she said. "We've been waiting for a really long time.

"We lost our father back in May, so it was a COVID-restricted funeral. It's affected us, I've got my mum here, our whole family is here, and we're thrilled my sister is finally able to get here.

"It's indescribable - we're just thrilled it can finally happen. It's been such a long time."

The Air New Zealand flight arrives in Hobart.
The Air New Zealand flight lands in Hobart.
SBS News: Sarah Maunder

Hobart's international terminal opened in 1983, and was used for direct flights between Hobart and Christchurch for 15 years.

Prior to the pandemic, about 20,000 New Zealanders travelled to Tasmania each year.

CEO of Tourism Tasmania John Fitzgerald said the direct flights will increase that number by about 30 to 40 per cent. 

"You're not doubling the market, but you're incentivising people, because people do want to come direct," he said. 

Tourism Tasmania has spent about $1.25 million since January, promoting Tasmania as a destination to New Zealanders.

"Most people travelling between New Zealand and Australia at the moment are visiting friends and family, and the holiday-makers will soon follow," Mr Fitzgerald said.

The Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein was at Hobart Airport to welcome the Auckland flight.
The Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein was at Hobart Airport to welcome the Auckland flight.
SBS News: Sarah Maunder

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein was at the airport to welcome the Auckland flight.

"It's a wonderful day for Tasmania, we're thrilled to welcome our friends from across the ditch," he said. 

"As the rest of the world opens up and demand for travel increases, I think we are well-placed to leverage off this, to look at other routes and destinations."

CEO of Hobart International Airport Norris Carter said the route to Auckland was the first step in creating more direct flights between Hobart and the rest of the world.

"The next markets we'll be looking at are those in Asia, we want to grow into our close neighbours," he said.

The federal government has pledged over $80 million towards the return of international flights, much of which has gone towards an airport upgrade.

The Tasmanian Government has committed $10 million towards terminal upgrades.

The direct flights between Auckland and Hobart will operate on Thursdays and Sundays. 

Additional reporting by AAP.

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