Air New Zealand's Auckland-Houston flights will be the longest on the airline's network.

It will take about 13hours 50 minutes to make the near 11,990km flight to the Texan city and an extra 40 minutes to fly back to New Zealand into prevailing head winds.

This will be another 30 minutes more than the airline's current longest flight - the Auckland - Vancouver service, a distance of around 11,340km.

For its Houston flights the airline will use refurbished Boeing 777-200s and are set to start in December.

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Houston will allow New Zealanders to fly directly into the southern heart of America, is a major hub for the southern and eastern United States and also offers good connectivity to the Caribbean and Latin America. Houston links well to feeder flights from US Star Alliance partner, United Airlines.

Flights could be up to five times a week depending on the time of year and Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said it was hoped to build services up to daily.

He said fares would be determined by supply and demand but there would be good deals to launch the service.

"We'll be very keen to get the destination well established and off to a good start. We want people to experience it and sample it - that will be very important."

Flight Centre said it expected prices to be priced competitively to the current indirect Auckland/Dallas route and slightly more than Auckland Los Angeles, making them around $1600 - $1700 return.

Luxon said Houston offered direct access to the American South and a range of new tourism experiences including Nasa's Johnson Space Center and Mission Control and rodeos and a jumping off point for the home of country music in Nashville, Tennessee; the jazz capital of New Orleans; and the resorts and theme parks and beaches of Florida.

Houston is also a key gateway for Mexico and the rest of Central America and the Caribbean where increasing numbers of New Zealanders are taking cruises.

Access to a huge pool of potential US visitors had also driven the decision.

"It is the best gateway in terms of originating traffic to access the centre of America and the East Coast," said Luxon.

"They've got big populations but they've got perceptions of a big distance issue."

Research found some Americans thought it took more than 40 hours to fly here.

"What we're trying to do is get them to think they're not going to have to do a transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles and down to New Zealand and make it less dramatic for them by doing a one or two hour commuter flight (to Houston).

Tourism leaders and the travel industry have welcomed the flights to launch later this year. They say they provide more momentum for rapidly growing traffic between New Zealand and the United States.

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Prime Minister and tourism minister John Key said the new service would provide a more direct route for the millions of US citizens living in the south and east of the country.

"Providing greater links with these states, with relatively affluent populations, also aligns with New Zealand's desire to attract more high-spending visitors to further boost our economy,"

The US is already New Zealand's third-largest visitor market behind Australia and China, with 226,608 arrivals in the year to February - a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Air New Zealand tested the Texas market for a few years in the late-1980s with services to Dallas-Fort Worth.

* The longest commercial flight operating now from this region is the Qantas Sydney- Dallas-Fort Worth leg at 13,804km which takes 14 hours 15 minutes to the US and 15 hours 30 minutes return.