Air Niugini has started operating Boeing 767 flights between Cairns and Port Moresby carrying fresh produce bound for Hong Kong.
While the airline has traditionally served Cairns with narrowbody aircraft, Air Niugini has upgauged the route and provided a one-stop connection to Hong Kong via its Port Moresby hub in partnership with the Queensland government, Cairns Regional Council and Cairns Airport.
The Papua New Guinea-based carrier plans to operate two 767-300 services a week from Cairns to Port Moresby and then onwards to Hong Kong.
The inaugural 767-300 flight PX 93 took off from Cairns a little after 1300 local time on Wednesday carrying 8.5 tonnes of cargo, including live fish, pumpkins and rockmelons and aquarium coral.
Cairns Airport marked the occasion by giving the aircraft P2-PXV an Airservices Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) monitor cross.
Air Niugini chief executive said the start of 767-300 operations to Cairns represented a significant occasion.
“You only have to look at all that local produce being loaded onto the plane to acknowledge how important this service is for the people of Far North Queensland,” Milne said in a statement.
“It’s great to be working with the state government to provide this service.”
VIDEO: A video from Air Niugini of the airline’s chief executive Alan Milne speaking with reporters at Cairns Airport about the start of Boeing 767-300 flights between Cairns and Port Moresby and then onwards to Hong Kong.
Earlier in 2019, the Queensland government launched an expressions of interest (EOI) process seeking new aviation capacity between Cairns and Hong Kong after Cathay Pacific announced plans to end flights to Far North Queensland.
There were six responses.
From those, the state government secured a commitment from Air Niugini to fly 767-300s twice a week on the Cairns-Port Moresby-Hong Kong route, as well as an agreement from Qantas to operate a once-weekly nonstop service between Cairns and Hong Kong with a 767 freighter.
The contract for the new flights would be for an initial six-month period “while all parties undertake regular reviews of the services”, the Queensland government said in a statement on October 18.
Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones said the flights were a boost for the local economy of Far North Queensland and “great win for the agricultural sector”, with the increased freight capacity to boost the reputation of Cairns as a trade and export hub.
“Tourism means jobs. That’s why we’re committed to growing this industry,” Jones said.
“Flights are crucial when it comes to supporting tourism operators to expand their businesses.”
Qantas said its freighter service would begin in mid-November with a 767-300 and operate as part of a Sydney-Cairns-Hong Kong routing, mostly on Sundays.
“We’ve responded to the call from Queensland producers to provide a direct international freighter service from Cairns,” Qantas Freight chief customer officer Nick McGlynn said in a statement.
“We encourage Cairns and Far North Queensland exporters to get behind this freight link so that we can continue it into the future.”
VIDEO: An Air Niugini video on the airline’s inaugural Boeing 767-300 service from Cairns to Port Moresby and onwards to Hong Kong.