Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s persistent international flights diplomacy has borne its first post-COVID fruit with news that Fiji Airways will begin a direct service to the Pacific island nation from Canberra.
The official announcement will be made at Canberra Airport on Friday (14 April) and include representatives from Fiji Airways, the Fijian Government, Canberra Airport and Visit Canberra, including Mr Barr, Fiji Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism Viliame Gavoka, and Canberra Airport Head of Aviation Michael Thomson.
They will announce details about the service and what it means for Canberra.
Also on hand to unveil the new route will be traditional Fijian dancers, Fijian Drua players who will swap shirts with opposite numbers from the Brumbies ahead of their clash later that evening, and pilots and cabin crew.
Mr Barr had hinted that some sort of announcement on flights was imminent when discussing the latest visitor numbers to Canberra last week.
“As the aviation industry recovers, and more planes and crew are brought back online, that opens up more opportunities for us,” he said.
“People want to come, and if they put on the flights, the seats will fill.”
Last October, Chief Minister Andrew Barr left Canberra for a four-day trade mission to New Zealand and the Pacific in a bid to do a deal on direct flights to Auckland and Fiji.
Mr Barr’s delegation met with senior New Zealand Government ministers, the new Wellington mayor, the Fiji Airways CEO and Nadi International Airport officials.
Canberra Airport management joined the delegation in Auckland and Nadi.
This followed a visit to New Zealand in May 2021, after which he said the two markets of Auckland and Wellington would come down to plane size.
Mr Barr is yet to land a direct New Zealand link, but it remains high on his agenda, as is the return of Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines to Canberra.
Qatar has postponed the expected resumption of its Canberra service, while Singapore is yet to announce anything. However, it has made positive noises about a return to Canberra sometime in the future.
Mr Barr has continued pushing the matter, last visiting Singapore on a trade mission in August.
He also has hopes that Qantas will add new routes to Canberra as it rebuilds capacity and adds to its fleet.
Last week, he said Qantas boss Alan Joyce had specifically referenced routes such as Canberra-Auckland, Canberra-Wellington and Canberra-Singapore as within the capacity of its new aircraft.
“We’re obviously working closely with Qantas to pursue those opportunities,” Mr Barr said.
Last July, Mr Thomson said he hoped Singapore Airlines would be back in Canberra in the next six to 12 months and the airport was looking to establish services to New Zealand and the South Pacific.
The Fiji Airlines deal will boost hopes of more international routes to come.