Row halts flights
ALL international flights between Nadi, Fiji and Honiara operated by Fiji Airways and Solomon Airlines have been suspended indefinitely.
This follows a stand-off between the civil aviation authorities of the two Melanesian countries which has been going since early this month without any solution.
As a result Fijian authorities have denied Solomon Airlines from landing into Nadi on Saturday.
Reacting to action the Civil Aviation Authorities of Solomon Islands (CAASI) also issued a flight ban to Fiji Airways effective today.
A government statement yesterday said Solomon Islands authorities have expressed deep sadness at the stand-off and decided to suspend Fiji Airways from flying into Honiara starting this morning.
Director of Civil Aviation Mr. George Satu said he was shocked to be advised that Solomon Airlines was denied entry to operate its scheduled and approved flights each Saturday to Fiji, returning Sundays.
“This is fundamentally flawed,” Mr Satu said in a statement issued yesterday.
He said the fact that the Fiji authorities have denied entry into Fiji of what has been an approved scheduled operation by Solomon Airlines has regrettably left the Civil Aviation Authorities of Solomon Islands (CAASI) with no option but to now deny Fiji Airways its rights for their scheduled services into Solomon Islands this Tuesday (today).
“Civil Aviation Authority of Solomon Islands (CAASI) is aware that Fiji Airways has applied to operate a second service to Solomon Islands on Saturday’s beginning in July 2014. CAASI, being the regulator in Solomon Islands had duly notified Fiji some months back that this particular service was not approved based on slots and some common understanding that two jet services on a Saturday to/from Nadi to Honiara was expressly overcapacity on that day.
“In addition to that, there have been long pending issues of ‘Rights’ that needed to be addressed prior to approving Fiji Airway’s request,” the director of civil aviation, said.
He added: “I’m further advised that there have been some outstanding issues between the two national carriers that needed redress and these have been ongoing for quite some time without any resolution.
“All this aside, we are a sovereign country and we have been very obliging with most, if not all, of the Fiji Government’s requests relating to aviation rights,” Mr Satu said.
In a statement yesterday the Fiji government said the dispute began after the Solomon Island’s Government breached the air services agreement between Fiji and Solomon’s that allows for air travel between the two nations.
“The Solomons Government has prevented two Fiji Airways direct flights from Nadi to Honiara from taking place over the past two weekends.
“After the latest flight was refused permission to fly on Saturday – July 12th, Fiji countered by banning a Solomon Airlines flight that was due to take place on the same day.”
The Attorney General and Minister for Civil Aviation, Aiyaz Sayed -Khaiyum, said the responsibility for the dispute rested with Solomon Islands.
“By refusing to allow Fiji Airways to operate its Honiara flight on successive Saturdays, the Solomon Islands Government has given Fiji no choice but to respond. We regret the inconvenience to the travelling public but this action was triggered by Solomon Islands and the responsibility lies with Honiara,” he said.
The minister said there had been a disagreement between the airlines of the two countries over sharing the direct route but Fiji had anticipated that the dispute could be settled in the normal commercial manner.
“We had hoped that this could be resolved amicably between Fiji Airways and Solomon Airlines but unfortunately, the Solomon Islands Government chose to intervene unilaterally to prevent Fiji Airways from making its scheduled flights. This means that it is in fundamental breach of the air services agreement between us.”
The minister said Fiji was willing to hold discussions to break the impasse and the ball was now in the Solomon’s court.
“They need to lift their flight ban and allow the airlines to return to the negotiating table so that this dispute can be resolved and the travelling public is not inconvenienced any further,” he said.
“Fiji stands ready to have this matter resolved amicably for the mutual benefit of both our countries”, the Minister added.
Permanent secretary of the ministry of aviation and communication Francis Lomo when contacted yesterday said that the suspension of Solomon Airlines was due to the expiry of the air service agreement between Solomon Airlines and Fiji Airways.
He explained that the agreement was related to the route (NAN – HIR) which expired around April this year.
“Following the expiry, we negotiate with the Fiji civil aviation and agree on the fifth freedom right.
“Under that fifth freedom rights it will enable an airline to carry passengers from their own country to another country, and then pick up and drop off passengers from the intermediate country to a third country.
“We both agreed on that however, Fiji tend to defy the agreement of the fifth freedom right and telling us (Solomon Airlines) to stick to the previous expired agreement which yet is to be renewed.
“We see this as unfair in terms of the fifth freedom right because we allow Fiji Airways to service the Solomons route from Fiji and Solomons to Vila while they did not allow Solomon Airlines to service the route from Vila to Nadi.
“That resulted in our civil aviation to suspend all Fiji Airways) flights to Honiara until further notice,” he said.
He said that at the moment the aviation authority is still waiting for a response from Fiji aviation in relation to a letter sent to them last Friday.
“Also our government is aware of this issue and we are waiting on their instruction on the matter,” he said.
At the moment Solomon Airlines is only providing services between Honiara, Brisbane and Port Vila.
For Nadi bound passengers they have to travel to Port Vila and board Air Vanuatu for Nadi.
The aviation authority has apologised for any inconvenience caused.
The cancellations of all flights since Saturday has caused a lot of frustrations for many passengers.
Speaking to this paper a passenger who was supposed to travel to Fiji last Saturday said the cancellation has caused so much frustration.
“We were already at the airport to check in for the flight when we were told the flight has been cancelled,” he said.
The situation has forced many passengers to board Air Niugini and Air Vanuatu in Nadi.
Those that boarded Air Vanuatu were picked up by Solomon Airlines at Port Vila before arriving in Honiara.
Most of the passengers who supposed to travel the Nadi-Honiara-Nadi route today have been affected by the suspension yesterday.
Fiji Airways in a statement yesterday apologises to customers affected by the disruption to / from its Honiara, Solomon Islands services, after its services to Honiara were suspended by the Solomons Government.
Fiji Airways was informed by CAASI that it would not be allowed a landing permit less than 24 hours before the start of its scheduled Nadi-Honiara direct flights on July 5th.
“The airline is working hard to re-route customers booked on Nadi-Honiara and Honiara-Nadi services on alternative routes.
“Fiji Airways is hopeful that the Governments of Solomon Islands and Fiji are able to reach a speedy resolution on this issue, for the benefit of air travellers between the two countries,” the statement said.
Affected customers are advised to call Fiji Airways Reservations on +679 6720 888.
National carrier Solomon Airlines when contacted yesterday for comment said a statement will be issued later.