Canberrans can book direct flights to Bali from today, amid hopes international travel is finally here to stay.
Batik Air, owned by Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, announced three weekly flights from Canberra Airport to Denpasar, in Bali’s south, on Friday, 2 February.
At a media conference today, group strategy director Chandran Rama Muthy confirmed these will take off every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, beginning 14 June. Ticket prices start from $339 one way and $629 return and include 20 kg of luggage.
Canberra is the sixth destination in Australia for the airline, and Mr Muthy said the region’s total catchment of one million people could be enough to eventually justify four flights per week.
“Normally, we start with three flights a week to gauge demand,” he said.
“I believe this market can take at least four. A daily service would be nice. But let’s see the feedback and support from the people of Canberra.”
Mr Muthy expects the vast majority of Canberra customers will be looking to enjoy a weekend getaway to Australia’s most popular tropical island, but “about 30 per cent” will make the most of connecting flights to other destinations within Indonesia, as well as further afield in Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Korea and China.
He wouldn’t confirm how long pricing would remain at its “promotional” rate but stressed Batik Air is “always affordable and reasonable”.
At the moment, Canberra Airport is only frequented by one international carrier, Fiji Airways, providing direct links to Nadi and, from there, access to North American destinations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and Vancouver.
Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines provided links to Doha in Qatar and Wellington in New Zealand, respectively, but these contracts fell through due to COVID-19.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who worked to help secure these deals, is confident that Batik Air is here to stay, and more will follow its lead.
“COVID was a factor previously,” he said.
“What makes this different is the size of the aircraft, the number of flights, the popularity of the destination, and the network that Batik Air brings.”
Mr Barr and other officials from the ACT Government and the Canberra Airport are meeting with Singapore Airlines in the next few days and “conversations with Qatar are continuing”.
“We’re looking to the North American market and connectivity there. Fiji Airways provides that to the West Coast, but we’ve made no secret in wanting to pursue a partnership with Qantas through Auckland to New York, as an example. And then clearly, we are interested in opportunities in India and China.”
For now, he expects Batik Air to predominately service a “very strong outbound market” while also allowing international students from China, India, Nepal and the Philippines a more direct route to Canberra.
“There’s not going to be tens of thousands inbound, but there will be thousands, and that’s an important part of the service. Certainly, the mainstay will be travelling out.”
To put a dollar figure on it, Mr Barr said Batik Air would bring “millions” into the ACT’s broader tourism economy.
“Canberrans have a high propensity to travel … and we have a very cold winter, so particularly over the winter period, it will be very difficult to get a seat on these flights.”
Canberra Airport head of aviation Michael Thomson says travel from the capital is “probably a little over 90 per cent” of what it was pre-pandemic.
“We’re getting closer, but I wouldn’t say we’re back to where we want to be yet.”
An adjustment to more flights on smaller planes seems to be the answer.
“What we’ve seen coming out of COVID is the larger carriers … generally running smaller aircraft and doing more frequency, so there are more flights, but the planes are smaller, which provides flexibility for travellers,” Mr Thomson said.
Tickets from Canberra to Denpasar are available through the Batik Air website or through travel agents.