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Tension still looming in South Pacific paradise

Fiji and the Solomon Islands’ governments may have settled their six-month dispute, but not all parties are happy with the outcome.

A Solomon Airlines spokesperson told KarryOn the carrier is disappointed with the new agreement, because it sees the airline restricted in the same conditions prior to the fallout.

“Nothing has been achieved. Nothing has changed.”

Yesterday, government officials announced they had reached a resolution to end the dispute, which started in July last year after the Solomons turned down Fiji Airways’ request for an extra service to Honiara every Saturday.

Solomon Islands dispute

Solomon Islands’ tourism bureau says arrivals have dropped as a direct result of the dispute.

The Solomons said the request was denied due to limitations at the airport.

Fiji responded by turning away a Solomon Airlines flight approaching Nadi, which lead to a ban on both airlines from flying to the others airports.

That was until yesterday’s announcement that flights would resume with Solomon Airlines returning to Fiji on 24 January and Fiji Airways to Honiara on 3 February.

Tourism bureaus welcomed the news and saw it as an opportunity to restore tourism, which had taken a dive, particularly in the Solomons, since the fallout. The destination saw arrivals drop from 6,195 during the second quarter 2013 to 4,908 during the same period 2014.

Solomon Airlines Aircraft 20130108

However, Solomon Airlines’ says the new agreement didn’t ease network growth restrictions placed on the carrier.

According to the spokesperson, the airline isn’t given the same fifth and sixth airline freedoms that have been permitted to Fiji Airways.

Fifth and sixth freedoms are the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country to a third. Currently, Solomon Airlines is only allowed to fly to Nadi via Port Vila drop off its passengers and pick up travellers who want to head back the same way.

The spokesperson said Solomon Airlines would like to pick up passengers in Port Vila as well as travel to destinations via Fiji and pick up passengers. This could include destinations such as Papua New Guinea.

“Fiji Airways on the other hand is being allowed to operate with full fifth and sixth freedom rights. Fiji Airways enjoys the right to operate into Honiara via Port Vila, embarking and disembarking passengers on the whole route while we do not have rights from Port Vila-Nadi and vice versa.”

Solomon Airlines spokesperson

Fiji Airways

Additionally, the new agreement saw Fiji Airlines receive the second direct return service slot of Honiara on Saturday.

In a statement to KarryOn, Fiji Airways chief executive Stefan Pichler said the airline isn’t in a position to comment on decision made by governments.

“We are a commercial entity and as such not in a position to comment the Air Services Agreement between the Governments of Fiji and Solomon Islands. We always try to adapt in a smart way to the regulatory environment.”

Stefan Pichler, Fiji Airways chief executive

Yesterday Fiji Airlines made the decision to withdraw its membership to the Association of South Pacific Airlines (ASPA), citing ‘strongly biased’ public announcements that were made over the resumption of air flights.

Fiji 2

Fiji and the Solomons’ governments say they’re content with the new agreement.

ASPA’s general secretary, George Faktaufon reportedly said that Fiji had benefited more from the new resolution, Fiji Live reported.

The airline said it had previously discussed the group’s biased comments with the Secretary and urged its comments to remain neutral.

Furthermore the carrier said it has always maintained the position that Air Services Agreements remain between government and not airlines.

What are your thoughts on the dispute?