US airline lands in Christchurch in non-stop first

The United States is now just one flight away from the South Island.

A United Airlines Dreamliner 787-900 landed at Christchurch Airport direct from San Francisco just after 10am on Sunday. 

It's the first time an American airline has flown non-stop between the South Island and the US. 

The new service, in partnership with Air New Zealand, is the first time the South Island has had a direct scheduled service to San Francisco.

The airline will fly a 787-800 between the two cities three times a week for the summer.

Christchurch Airport chief executive Justin Watson said the service between Ōtautahi/Christchurch and San Francisco is a confidence boost for the entire country.

The aviation sector has taken a while to scale back up after Covid-19, he said, and to be one of United Airline's new routes should mean a lot to Christchurch, the South Island and New Zealand.

"Statistics show American visitors who enter the country through Christchurch Airport spend 42 percent more in New Zealand and stay 33 percent longer. 

"Based on government data, the seasonal service is forecast to bring in $44 million in visitor spend for New Zealand, with $32 million of that going to the regions of the South Island.

"This is the ideal combination of national value impact and regional economic impact, and will boost tourism value for the country."

United Airlines will fly a 787-800 between San Francisco and Christchurch three times a week over...
United Airlines will fly a 787-800 between San Francisco and Christchurch three times a week over summer. Photo: supplied
The direct service will also be an important connection between Christchurch, America and Antarctica, Watson said. 

"The United States Antarctic Programme is based here because we are the world's southern-most gateway to the ice. Every year the programme brings more than 3000 staff, scientists and supplies here from America on the way to Antarctica. Having this direct air connection will be invaluable and easier for that process."

United Airlines spokesperson Tim Wallis said his company is proud to be the first US airline to offer the direct service for travellers.

"New Zealand will always be a bucket list destination for our US travellers, and this flight offers direct access to the natural wonders of the South Island, while also making it easy for New Zealand's southern population to head north into the Americas and beyond."

For keen plane-spotters, Christchurch Airport has set up a viewing area alongside the runway dubbed Planespotters Park. It's open until 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

Watson said it should be a good day out for everyone.

UA731 will depart Christchurch on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays at 2.15pm and UA730 will leave San Francisco on Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays at 11.30pm.