QF121 touched down at 2:31 pm on Monday, 387 days after the last scheduled international flight arrived at Queenstown Airport.
As the aircraft approached the gate, it passed through a water arch compliments of the Queenstown Airport rescue fire team to mark the occasion.
Passengers arriving from Sydney received a welcome to the Southern Lakes region in the terminal. They were greeted by local kaumatua, Darren Rewi who gave a traditional mihi whakatau (welcome) to the manuhiri (visitors), as well as live music, prizes from more than 95 Queenstown and Wānaka businesses, and entertainment in the airport forecourt.
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor and his wife also welcomed the visitors, with a handshake and an ANZAC biscuit.
“It was a wonderful, beautiful day,” Boult said.
“And the families reuniting, there were some joyous scenes, people coming into the airport and saying ‘I’m on New Zealand soil again”. It was so emotional. One of the media reporters was howling, right through it.”
Once the snow is on the mountains, we are going to see an enormous number of Australians arriving, he said.
“We think we are in for a bumper ski season and we need it.”
May is always quiet, he said, but we think we will get a bit of a boost this May.
“We are looking forward to June through to September. The hotels are already saying they are getting really good bookings.
“It will be no surprise to anyone that many businesses and locals in the district have been struggling during the absence of international visitors.
“Businesses have gone broke and people have lost their jobs and homes.
“So, it’s tremendous to see this turning point enabling easier business connections, families to reunite and an absolute lifeline for many tourism and hospitality providers.”
Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) Chief Executive, Colin Keel said: “We were thrilled to mark the re-opening of the trans-Tasman border and the first quarantine-free flight from Australia to Queenstown Airport with a celebration today.
“More than 80 businesses operate at Queenstown and Wānaka airports; the majority are locally owned and the last year has certainly been tough. Many of us in Queenstown, Wānaka and the wider region have been hanging on for the reopening of the border with Australia. It’s a vital step towards recovery.”
As a trans-Tasman only international airport, Queenstown Airport will only be accepting ‘green zone’ flights and has approved protocols and procedures in place to safely manage the recommencement of direct flights to and from Australia.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of our team, airport community and the travelling public remains our highest priority. We have and will continue to have robust health, safety and cleaning protocols in place in the airport,” said Keel.
Before COVID-19, 30 per cent of all passenger arrivals and departures at Queenstown Airport were on trans-Tasman flights. In 2019, 716,908 passengers arrived and departed on the direct Australia flights.
Keel said: “This week we are expecting about 36 direct flights (arrivals and departures) between Australia and Queenstown. As we get closer to the ski season that number will increase significantly.
“Direct scheduled services will be operated by Air New Zealand and Qantas between Queenstown and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to start. Within the coming weeks, we expect Jetstar and Virgin Australia to confirm the recommencement dates for their services, including the Queenstown to Gold Coast route.”
During the 2019 winter season, up to 160 flights arrived and departed between Queenstown and Australia each week.
Read edition 1023 of the Wānaka Sun here.