Philippine Airlines' entry into the New Zealand market will open up a new front for Kiwi holiday makers, travel agents say.

The airline began its four times-a-week service to Auckland from Manila yesterday and is aiming to open up leisure and business traffic between the two countries. The service flies via Cairns.

The service is aboard a 154-seater Airbus 320, flying every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday. It has 12 business class seats and 142 economy seats and Philippine Air is a full service airline.

Total flight time is between 11 hours and 12 hours, including the one-hour Cairns stopover.

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The A320 aircraft are typically used on New Zealand domestic routes, across the Tasman and to the Pacific Islands.

Air New Zealand's single class A320s used on international routes have 168 seats. Commercial director at House of Travel Brent Thomas said the Philippines was just inside the top 20 as a destination for New Zealanders but with the new flights this would be closer to the top 10.

The popularity of mid-haul flights was growing and the Philippines would appeal as a shot stay holiday of four to five days as well as longer vacations of more than a week.

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"New Zealanders like being the first to go to brand new destinations so they can come home and tell their friends about it. "Sean Berenson, general manager of product at Flight Centre, said the service would also open up Cairns for more New Zealanders. At the moment Air New Zealand flies seasonal services to the north Queensland city.

"A bit of competition will help with any route," he said.

Most traffic between New Zealand and the Philippines went via Singapore and Hong Kong.

Air New Zealand is also mulling the Philippines as a possible destination, most likely as a seasonal service similar to one to be launched to Vietnam next winter. There are about 44,000 Filipinos living in New Zealand and they will help bolster demand for the services.

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Philippine Airlines' president Jaime J. Bautista the route would stimulate passenger traffic along three travel streams - Manila- Cairns, Manila -Auckland as well as Cairns - Auckland.

"Filipinos residing in New Zealand will find the new service as their convenient link to their home country."

Philippine Airlines is growing steadily throughout the Pacific, adding new widebody planes to its fleet more gradually than previously.

Nearly all airlines in the Asia-Pacific are enjoying good growth. In October traffic increased 8.6 per cent compared to the same period a year ago.