One of the world's most prestigious airlines could soon be landing in Wellington, with Singapore Airlines expected to launch a new jumbo service between the trans-Tasman capital cities.
After months of negotiations, the airline is expected to announce a new Airbus A330 service between Canberra and Wellington on January 20, tied to a new Canberra-Singapore service.
Wellington Airport, the Wellington City Council and Singapore Airlines all declined to confirm the new route on Tuesday, after news broke across the Tasman.
"I'm aware of the media reports but at this stage its speculation and there's nothing new to say," Wellington deputy mayor Justin Lester said.
"We are regularly talking to airlines. We are interested in improving connectivity to Wellington and would welcome any future initiative, should it eventuate."
The wide-body aircraft is expected to fly to Wellington four times a week, adding more than 1000 seats a week across the Tasman and on to Asia.
It will be the first direct scheduled service between Canberra and any New Zealand city, with the Australian capital's residents currently required to travel to Sydney or Melbourne to cross the Tasman.
This raises the prospect that Aucklanders wanting to travel to Canberra may start choosing to fly via Wellington, rather than transferring from the international to domestic terminals in Sydney.
Direct flights would also open up an attractive new tourism market. With a population of less than 400,000, Canberra is much smaller than Sydney and Melbourne, but its residents are the best paid in Australia
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average earnings in ACT in May 2015 were A$88,764 (NZ$94,462) a year, A$11,000 more than the national average.
The new route is likely to bolster supporters of a plan to extend Wellington Airport's runway, as a sign of international demand to land in the capital.
Shareholders in the airport, Infratil and the Wellington City Council, have indicated that the $300 million project to extend the runway by 354 metres would need cash from central government for it to go ahead.
Air New Zealand, which has a code-sharing agreement with Singapore Airlines, is expected to support the new route, but opposes the extension of the airport.
The Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand, which represents 21 airlines that operate in this country, including Singapore Airlines, has also expressed concerns about the viability of extending Wellington Airport's runway.
Executive director John Beckett said the fact that flying an Airbus A330 into and out of Wellington was being talked about showed other international routes were possible, without the expense of extending the runway.
Aviation commentator Peter Clark said some would see the move as proof that airlines were interested in flying long-haul to Wellington should the runway be extended, but it was worth keeping things in perspective.
"This is still only a trans-tasman flight," he said. "I don't think we'll be seeing a rush of airlines into Wellington."
It would be interesting to see what incentives Wellington Airport had offered Singapore Airlines, and how high ticket prices would have to be to justify the route.
FIVE REASONS TO VISIT CANBERRA
1. The Australian War Memorial: It chronicles the involvement of Australia's troops in war, from the colonial period to the present. Ranked second on Trip Advisor's 2015 Top 10 Australian landmarks.
2. Parliament House: See Australian democracy in action, or simply check on who the latest prime minister is.
3. Art galleries: Dotted across the city, including the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.
4. The Deep Space Communication Complex: The nearby Tidbinbilla valley is dominated by giant antenna dishes that communicate with spacecraft exploring planets hundreds of millions of kilometres away.
5. Foliage: Canberra is home to the National Arboretum, devoted to growing trees for conservation, scientific research and educational purposes. It features 48,000 trees.
HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 20:50, January 12 2016