A repatriation service flying direct from Delhi and arriving at Auckland Airport today will bring Kiwis home and offers a glimpse of possible future airlinks between India and New Zealand.

Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport’s General Manager Aeronautical Commercial, said the first direct Air India flight between the two countries was keenly anticipated, even in the age of COVID-19.

“Any time we get a first visit from an airline on a new route, it’s a big deal. Less than a year ago, we led a delegation of tourism industry leaders to India and we were working hard to develop the market.

“I’d like to think that in the future we might see a scheduled direct flight between India and New Zealand. The bonds between our two countries are strong and our hope is that India will be a key market in the long-term recovery of New Zealand’s tourism industry.”

India’s middle class is predicted to grow from 80 million in 2018 to 580 million people by 2025. Last year, more than 65,000 Indians visited New Zealand, transiting in a third country along the way.

The plane, an Air India 777-200LR, is due to land after a 16-hour flight at 11.30am today (flight AI1306) and depart at 4am on Sunday (flight AI1307).

The service is part of a large-scale Indian Government repatriation effort to get Indian citizens back home. The Vande Bharat Mission has already seen more than 45,000 Indians return home from all around the world. In its third phase, 70 flights are scheduled to cities in the US and Canada, between 11-30 June.

“As with all the repatriation flights we’ve helped operate over the past couple of months, this is a case of Auckland Airport doing what it always does - helping people get where they need to be. With about eight percent of Aucklanders having Indian ethnicity, we know there will be a great deal of interest in these flights from people in our community.”

New Zealanders arriving on the inbound flight will be placed in a hotel under managed isolation by the Ministry of Health for 14 days.