Auckland International Airport has convinced Continental Airlines to start flying between Auckland and Houston from November next year, improving access to the North American tourism market.
Continental will use the new generation Boeing 787-8 for the service which will be daily during the peak summer season and five times a week during part of the winter off-peak season.
The trans-Pacific route has proved difficult for United States airlines.
Continental last flew to New Zealand about 15 years ago, while United Airlines was the last to leave, about 2003.
Auckland Airport head of business development Glen Wedlock said the 228-seat 787 was the perfect size for the route.
It was expected that at least 100,000 passengers would use the service in its first year, earning the airport about $3 million a year from landing fees and retail spending.
About 155,000 American tourists passed through Auckland Airport in the last year.
The airport had spent a year putting together a business plan to attract Continental with the assistance of Tourism New Zealand.
Two large United States travel wholesalers would sell the service which also formed part of a wider code-share agreement with Air New Zealand.
Both are members of the Star Alliance along with United Airlines which plans to merge with Continental.
Kevin Bowler, chief executive of Tourism New Zealand said the marketing organisation would support the programme.
TNZ is aiming to increase visitors from the United States by two-thirds to 330,000 a year by 2014.
The fact that the new service was not competing with existing Air New Zealand and Qantas flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco was a major plus.
"It is opening a new gateway with the US to a new marketplace," Mr Bowler said.
House of Travel retail director Brent Thomas said a direct connection with Houston would make it much easier to travel to and from North America.
Houston's location in the central southern United States opened up the Eastern seaboard, including New York as well as the Caribbean which was a growing cruising market for New Zealanders.
It would also add another option to fly on to Europe.
"It is a very exciting opportunity both inbound and outbound because it opens more directly a whole lot of new markets for New Zealand tourism."
House of Travel's sales to New York had doubled this year, recovering to 2008 levels, partly due to people deferring travel plans during last year's recession.
"The US-Canada as a whole has been one of our biggest growth areas."
Air New Zealand head of international airline operations Ed Sims said the airline had plans for a direct service to Houston using the larger 787-9 aircraft.
But the three-year delivery delay of the planes to early 2013 meant it would now code-share on the route.
It is understood, however, that Air New Zealand could still launch a competing service.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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