Solomon Airlines has shut down its operations and grounded all international and domestic flights.
Reporting on the drastic measure, Radio New Zealand said that in ordering the indefinite shutdown, the airline’s chief executive, Captain Ron Sumsum, had referred to millions of dollars in unpaid government arrears .
In an official statement delivered later to codeshare partners and other international carriers operating into Henderson International Airport in Honiara, Sumsum attributed the drastic decision to “a dispute with the Solomon Islands’ Government” and said it had not been taken lightly.
“This decision also affects services operated by us to our codeshare partners and services provided to all other airlines in our capacity as ground handling agents, Sumsum said.
“I am confident the Solomon Islands’ Government will address the situation in a very short time.”
Apologising for the disruption to services, Sumsum said he hoped the airline would return to full operation as soon as possible.
The Solomon Islands ministry of aviation says it is hoping to reach agreement with the airline.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued the following advisory yesterday: “On Tuesday 7 June 2016 Solomon Airlines suspended operations. The suspension applies to all domestic and international flights and to airport ground services. All international carriers will be affected due to the suspension of ground services at Henderson Airport in Honiara.
“Travellers should contact their airline, travel agent or tour operator for information on disruption to flights. You should monitor the media and announcements from Solomon Airlines for information on ongoing disruption to flights. The level of this advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the Solomon Islands.”
Radio New Zealand quoted the Solomon Islands’ permanent secretary of aviation, Moses Virivolomo, saying attempts were being made to reach a resolution with the airline so services could resume today (Wednesday 8 June 2016).
Virivolomo stressed that the shutdown had nothing to do with the safety of Honiara’s international airport.
“It is an operational issue this is nothing to do with the integrity of the international airport in Honiara. It has nothing to do with the security, nothing to do with the airport management or air traffic or the facilities at the airport. It is basically operational issues with the airline itself.”
Radio New Zealand said it understood that the airline’s domestic pilots were having to make longer and more frequent flights because the carrier’s largest and fastest domestic aircraft, a Dash 8, “was sent to Australia in March for scheduled maintenance and repairs”. Before that aircraft could return to service, the repair bill needed to be paid, the broadcaster said.
Just this Monday, Solomon Airlines issued a statement saying it had resumed flights into the provincial capital of Auki to provide a vital air link for the people of Malaita Province.
“The national carrier has commenced operation of three weekly services ex-Honiara on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays using a combination of its Twin Otter and Islander aircraft on the route,” the airline said.
Referring to the Dash 8, Solomon Airlines’ general manager operations and commercial, Gus Kraus, said he hoped the airline could deploy the aircraft on the route before too long, though he acknowledged more work was required on the runway at Auki before that could occur.
Written by Peter Needham