Direct flights to the South Pacific now taking off from Changi on Fiji Airways

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans can now fly directly to the South Pacific Islands for the first time, with the arrival of Fiji Airways, Fiji's national airline, in Changi Airport on Wednesday.

A total of 100 Singaporeans boarded the inaugural flight to Fiji at 10pm, while 170 Fijians had arrived here earlier in the morning. The flight from Changi had been delayed by 11 hours due to typhoon and flood warnings in Fiji. Nonetheless, passengers were unfazed.

"Fiji is a great location for holiday makers, and I'm looking forward to a week of relaxing on the beach and enjoying the sun," said sales manager Dyana Chua, who boarded the inaugural flight with a friend.

The new route between Changi and Nadi International Airport, located on Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, will run every Wednesday and Saturday on an Airbus 330, which can accommodate 273 passengers.

The 10-hour flight is a good three hours shorter than previous routes, when travellers were required to stop over in New Zealand or Australia.

From Nadi Airport, countries like Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu can be accessed through the airline's regional network.

Fiji is seen as expensive compared to destinations such as the Maldives and Bali, making it less popular with Singaporeans, said a spokesperson from travel agency Dynasty Travel.

But this new direct flight could raise interest in holidaying in the country, she added.

Located between New Zealand and Hawaii, the Fiji republic consists of 333 tropical islands, and Singapore is now one of 13 countries with direct flights to the archipelago.

"With over 70 city links to Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia, Changi Airport will provide European and Asian passengers direct and quick access to Fiji, famous for its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, soft coral diving and luxurious resorts," said an earlier press release from Changi Airport Group.

It added: "For travellers from the Pacific Islands, Singapore is a strategic gateway for onward travel to Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia."

Said Fiji Airways chief executive Andre Viljoen: "Most onwards flights to key cities in India, Indonesia and Malaysia are under four hours, which adds to the appeal of flying through Singapore."

He added that talks for code sharing with several airlines are underway, including Singapore Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways, Air France and British Air.

Currently, return tickets from Singapore are priced at $839 and $1,101 for economy class and $2,289 for business class on the airline's website.

chiaytr@sph.com.sg