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Wellington airport snares new Fiji short-haul route

Fiji Airways, the Pacific nation's national airline, will launch direct flights between Wellington and Nadi from June next year as it looks to extend its reach into New Zealand latching on to increased travel to Fiji, while also providing new routes into North America.

The Nadi-based airline will run the twice-weekly service all year round, flying on Thursday and Sunday from June 25, 2015, it said in a statement. The route adds 328 weekly seats between Fiji and New Zealand, and opens a new route from the capital city to North America, connecting through Nadi.

"The introduction of this new route reflects our commitment to the New Zealand market and in growing our global network," chief executive Stefan Pichler said. "Given the strength of the New Zealand market, we are confident Wellingtonians will embrace this new opportunity to travel directly to Fiji."

The carrier is seeking to boost its New Zealand capacity 59 percent by 2017 from its current 237,390 annual available seats as part of a drive to transform itself into a world-class boutique airline. Part of that plan includes turning Fiji into a hub for the Asia-Pacific market.

Government figures show visitor arrivals from Fiji rose 4.2 percent to 24,400 in the year ended Oct. 30, while New Zealand departures to Fiji climbed 17 percent to 127,500 over the same period.

Wellington International Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said the company has been working with Fiji Airways for a number of years to set up a direct route to Fiji, and the new route will add up to 34,000 seats annually to Wellington's market.

The airport and Wellington City Council have $350 million plans to extend the capital's only runway to attract more long-haul international Asian and North American routes as the domestic market grows increasingly competitive, though the proposal would require a top up from central government, which is wary of the project.

Wellington's deputy mayor, Justin Lester, who sits on the WIAL board where the Wellington City Council has a 33 percent shareholding, is reported this morning by Fairfax Media as saying the project is likely to be heard by a board of inquiry to fast-track the resource consent process. Boards of inquiry, overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority, are used for projects deemed to be of national significance.