New Auckland-Invercargill flights expected to bring opportunities for Southland

Southland business leaders are welcoming the arrival of new direct jet flights between Invercargill and Auckland.

The new service has taken off after a long campaign by those in the south, and will shorten the journey for both business and leisure travellers.

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt says it's a statement of confidence in the region, and will impact the local tourism, agriculture, and fishing industries.

"It's going to make a huge difference", he says. "Not just in terms of aeroplanes flying and landing.. but in terms of the morale of the people."

The first direct flight from the country's southernmost city of Invercargill to Auckland took off off early on Monday morning, following the inaugural flight south from Auckland which touched down just before 10pm on Sunday night to a warm welcome.

The new service uses an Airbus A320 plane, and is being described as a game-changer for Southland. It's the product of 3 years of work between southern stakeholders and Air New Zealand.

The airline's outgoing CEO Christopher Luxon is pleased he could join in the launch, describing it as a proud moment.

"It's taken a combination of community leaders, business leaders, political leaders all working together and collaborating on ways they haven't done before to actually build the demand to justify these services", he says.

Joining the AIr New Zealand CEO onboard the first flight south was Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.  The NZ First MP very publicly slammed Luxon and the airline last year for cutting regional services.

He says there's a huge economy down in Southland, and is welcoming the regional boost.

"Full marks to the executive team and the board of Air New Zealand for stepping up to the plate", says Jones. "This is what I want to see around the country."

Invercargill Airport has been upgraded to accommodate security screening facilities for the new jet services, thanks in part to a $500,000 grant from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund.  The expansion has created 13 new fulltime positions at the airport, along with 16 extra parttime staff.

There will be 5 return flights a week, with fares starting from $79 for those booking early enough.  It's already proving popular, with more than 20,000 seats already sold - two thirds of those booked by Southland residents.

The two hour flight is the longest regional leg for Air New Zealand's domestic service, but will carve hours off the total journey for many travellers.

Previously the only option for travellers is to fly on the smaller and slower ATR-72 planes, with a stopover in either Wellington or Christchurch.  The direct service will mean less time waiting in airports, and more time doing business on the ground or seeing the sights.

Invercargill's Mayor is confident that will help attract more visitors south.

"Well you've got no excuse, have you?  Come on Auckland, have a look at your own country!", he says.

The new service is expected to inject 12 million dollars into the Southland economy over the next three years.