History touches down

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Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt, son Declan Lawton Dutt (7), and partner Asha Dutt were among the first passengers off Air New Zealand's inaugural flight from Auckland to Invercargill on Sunday night at Invercargill Airport. Photo: Abbey Palmer

REGIONAL history was made on Sunday evening as Invercargill Airport became the first of its kind to host a regular jet service in New Zealand.

Sold-out and carrying several special guests, the inaugural Auckland to Invercargill flight departed about 7.30pm and touched down in the deep south at 9.40pm.

Air New Zealand chief executive officer Christopher Luxon said the direct flight would support Southland’s growth by being one step closer to the country’s largest city and international gateway.

“The service will support Southland’s tourism ambitions, as well as the ability to transport an extra 500 tonnes of goods a year from Invercargill to Auckland and beyond,” he said.

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt was also on board, along with Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks, Southland District Mayor Gary Tong, and several Southland MPs.

Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty said those involved in the launch of the flight had “worked really hard” since October 2017 to make it happen.

Great South, the Southland regional development agency, had also been largely involved.

“The terminal’s ready to go and Southland’s ready to go.

“It’s a great opportunity for Southland and it also allows national and international markets better access to our place.”

The potential for cargo had also increased to allow up to 2.3 tonnes a day, he said.

“Our perishable and high-value freight could leave Invercargill at 6 o’clock in the morning and very easily be on the plates of people in the Viaduct Basin for lunch that day.”

Great South chief executive Ann Lockhart commended those involved in preparing for the service.

“Invercargill Airport has worked very hard to be ready for this very important touchdown and I think we can all agree that the result is outstanding,” she said.

The upgrade would ensure people’s first contact with Invercargill when they chose to fly down was “impressive”, she said.

The A320 jet aircraft service would run five days a week from Invercargill on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and return from Auckland on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

About two hours long and the longest regional flight in New Zealand, it would land in Invercargill at 9.30pm and depart at 6am, except on Saturdays which had a 9.15am departure.

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