Solomon Air delays Gizo flights for another week | Pacific Beat

Solomon Air delays Gizo flights for another week

Solomon Air delays Gizo flights for another week

Updated 20 September 2013, 10:43 AEST

To the Solomon Islands now, and flights to the tourist hub of Gizo have been delayed for another week.

The airport is being sealed but is still to be full completed.

The upgrade's part of the same work being funded by NZAID that's seen the nearby Munda airport upgraded so it is capable of taking international flights.

To find out what all this means for travellers, Geraldine Coutts spoke to the General Manager of Operations at Solomon Airlines, Gus Kraus.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Gus Kraus, General Manager of Operations at Solomon Airlines

KRAUS: Well basically the contractors have indicated even as late as yesterday that they were waiting for some further gravel to be shipped from Honiara to Gizo and the latest information indicates that our deadline that we said we would be operating by the 29th September, that looks like actually sliding a little bit further. So it's unfortunate that these matters are out of our control and probably a little bit out of the contractors control too, so we're waiting for further word probably today to see whether 29th September will make the target or we'll have to slip it further.
COUTTS: How long has this been going on? How long has Gizo been out of operation? Is it affecting the local businesses and tourist trade?
KRAUS: Well, I think there is an affect, both in the economy of the Western Province and also for tourist trade. We've been operating now for about three months moving people to and from Munda to Gizo by boats and there's a lot of operators that have put their hands up, some that meet the criteria of safety and some that don't, so we don't use them. But basically the airline has been lacks in terms of charging Gizo airfares and then putting the passengers onto the boat. So we've tried to actually stop that and only sell Munda as the destination and it's up to the passengers to operate and pay the boat operators between Munda and Gizo.
I mean the airline is not in the business of boats, so we've made it clear right from the start. But because of the dates keep moving for the opening, we've sold some Gizo airfares, so now we've got to actually accommodate them onto boats and see which operators are suitable for that boat ride between Munda and Gizo.
COUTTS: And would you give them back part of the fees that they've played for a flight, because they're only going by boat?
KRAUS: No, basically the boat fare is much higher than what we charge for the airfare, because the boat operators obviously they've got their own charges and a fuel prices for the boats are pretty steep and so basically we accept the differential and put them onto the boat. And we've also tried to be careful about medicines and school materials and provincial and business supplies that go between Honiara and to Gizo and that's taken a bit of an affect obviously, because we've said that if you want to send your stuff from Munda to Gizo, you're really on your own until we get the airport up and running, whereas that program has continued to slip backwards.
COUTTS: But you have helped in the areas of health, the medicines, the books and food supplies?
KRAUS: Yes, yes, we have. Those particular areas of urgency, we've totally accepted the responsibility and moved them, but in terms of people that just want to send general goods to Gizo, it's up to them to move it between Munda and Gizo. We'll take it only to Munda.
COUTTS: So it's been quite a dislocation for the communities in that area?
KRAUS: I think it's, the end result I think is what we're all looking for and the end result will be an excellent airport with an all-weather seal strip and for the Western Province, Gizo is the hub and we certainly look forward to the end product when we start flying again and hopefully we can develop the business. Because that's also hit the airline in the pocket, that everybody travels to Munda. There's a lot of people that don't bother and take a boat straight from Honiara right through to the West. So we've lost a fair sum of money as well on the route by not having it available.
COUTTS: But you'll make it up once the international flights are coming in?
KRAUS: Well hopefully. I mean Munda is the alternate international airport, but that's a co-funding matter between New Zealand Aid and the Solomons Government and whilst the New Zealand Aid contractor has actually finished Munda airstrip, there's still a lot of other leg work to be done, like fencing of the runway, like rebuilding of a new terminal, like nav-aids and light facilities, so all that still has to be done yet, although it's been officially opened by the Foreign Affairs of New Zealand and the PM of Solomon Islands.
COUTTS: So it's looking more likely after Christmas?
KRAUS: Ah, for Munda itself, it might even go into later after Christmas, that depends on the Solomons government. But certainly for Gizo, we expect the 29th of September and or within a week of that date that we'll be operating - we're watching that carefully.

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