Early yesterday morning, the inaugural Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast marked the fruition of three year’s work. The flight had only 17 vacant seats which tourism leaders from both destinations took as a sign of future strength and business sustainability.

The new service is a product of the trans-Tasman alliance between Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia. Sunshine Coast Destination’s CEO said the hope is that after the seasonal flight path closes on September 18 this year, popularity will allow it to open up year-round.

“We need to make it work without exposing any of the parties in a tough environment. So it is a seasonal service, with the possibility of an extension based on the strength of bookings. At this stage, we are seeing good market demand and bookings continue to hold up.”

While the traffic is primarily expected to be Aucklanders heading west for some sun during winter, the hope is that Sunshine Coasters will take to Auckland, especially encouraged by Queensland-based Kiwis visiting friends and family.

Air New Zealand’s general manager of Australian operations, Cam Wallace, said there is a small but growing business travel segment between the two cities which is highly valuable and which the airline hopes will increase.

Passengers of the inaugural flight arrived in the Sunshine Coast to walk down a red carpet and be the first to have their passports marked with the new Sunshine Coast stamp. Maori and Australian aboriginal dancers welcomed the passengers with a traditional performance while Terri, Bindi and Robert Erwin gave away family experiences at Australia Zoo.