Canberra’s new direct flight link with Fiji is off to a flying start with 3000 tickets already sold as of Friday afternoon.
Fiji Deputy Prime Minister Viliame Gavoka revealed the number after an official event at Canberra Airport to mark the opening of the new Fiji Airways route to Nadi from July.
The new route will operate twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays from 21 July 2023 to the end of September 2023, and three times a week from October 2023 onwards. Additional services – possibly daily – could be added in the future.
The big response will be partly due to the introductory fare offer of $499 return. Business Class return airfares are available from $2960.
But Fiji Airways also operates direct flights from Nadi to Los Angeles and San Francisco, offering seamless connections to North America.
Mr Gavoka said the airline was in it for the long haul and had been market ready for two years.
The delivery of new aircraft presented the opportunity to expand the number of services to Australia, with Canberra becoming the airline’s 22nd international destination.
Mr Gavoka said Fiji offered a totally different environment to a Canberra winter that was very friendly, relaxing, and only four hours away.
There was also strong demand for Fijians to visit Australia, with visa applications at an all-time high.
“We believe it will fly in a big way,” he said.
Fares will increase but would remain very competitive with other flights out of Australia.
Fiji Airways will use its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the Fiji Airways link would add thousands to Canberra visitor numbers and millions to the tourism economy, given some of those would be from North America.
He said there was also a significant Fijian community in Canberra, and a lot of Fijians came to visit friends and relatives.
“These aviation partnerships only work if there is activity both ways,” Mr Barr said.
He said the announcement, which had been long in the making, vindicated his pursuit of strategic aviation partnerships diplomacy and should silence the sceptics who said it could not be done.
Mr Barr would not be drawn on further announcements but said what built the business case were the onward connections like this one, and that would be the case for Singapore, Qatar and Auckland.
“These sorts of services work well when you’ve got passengers going direct or doing a stopover, and also hubbing off to other locations,” he said.
For Canberra Airport, it means it is back in the international game.
Canberra Airport head of aviation Michael Thomson said the Fiji link was a great thing for the airport because it re-established it as an international port and provided not just a holiday destination but a link through to the US.
“The flights will be timed in such a way that if you want to connect through Nadi to the US, you’ve got about two hours on the ground in Nadi, and then you can get on an A350 into LA or Vancouver,” he said.
Mr Thomson said Qatar Airways and Singapore would eventually come back to Canberra but needed to bed down their networks and work out availability of staff and planes.
The announcement at Canberra Airport included dignitaries, Fijian traditional dancers and the Fijian Drua and Brumbies rugby players.
Mr Gavoka announced that Fiji Airways would also sponsor the Brumbies, as well as the Drua.