Authorities in Solomon Islands want to resolve the impasse between its airline, Solomon Airline and Fiji’s national carrier, Fiji Airways, which has affected flights between the two countries.
The stand-off now into its third week has affected hundreds of passengers travelling between Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Solomon Islands Attorney General, Billy Titiulu is confident that ‘both governments will move to resolve the impasse.’
He is in Palau this week with his Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, returning from Cuba where the country’s new diplomatic mission was officially opened.
Titiulu told Pacific journalists in Koror that Solomon Islands has been dealt with unfairly by the Fijian civil aviation authorities.
“We have given Fiji Airways the right to fly into Honiara via Port Vila. They pick passengers from Fiji and drop off in Port Vila and they can pick passengers from there and come to Honiara. But the Fijian authorities have not accorded that same arrangement to us. This is unfair, Titiulu told journalists.
Under the current Air Services Agreement between the two countries, Fiji Airways has a Tuesday scheduled flight to Honiara via Port Vila and Solomon Airlines has a Saturday flight to Fiji.
“We have a long standing arrangement with Fiji dating back to the 1990s and it’s based on equity and reciprocity.
“However, our friends in Fiji applied for additional flights on Saturday which is on the day that we operate between Solomon Islands/Vila and Nadi. On our part, we need to consult with our operator before a decision is made, said the Solomon Islands AG.
He said Solomon Islands granted Fiji the freedom to pick and drop passengers en route to Honiara via Port Vila but that equal access has not been given to Solomon Airlines.
“We can carry passenger and drop off in Port Vila but we cannot pick passengers in Vila to go to Nadi. In the same vein, we cannot pick from Nadi to drop in Vila whereas Fiji Airways enjoys that right. That’s the inequality that we are trying to have it resolved, said Titiulu.
He said a meeting was planned for Vila to resolve the impasse but that meeting did not eventuate.
“The Fijian authorities did not like our response and cancelled our approved flight on Saturday 12 July 2014. They are now moving to the next level and not dealing with the pending application. They terminated the approved schedule which has been there for a long time. That’s not fair.
“As a result we did not allow the flight on the following Tuesday, 15 July 2014.
Titiulu is mindful of the urgency to deal with the stand-off between the airlines.
“We need to put our positions to the Fijian Government properly and we need to get their positions properly also so that when we meet we know what the issues are. Right now the impasse has affected issues of code-sharing.
“Fiji has taken it the next level. They are not only cancelling our approved flights but they are also not touching our code-sharing arrangement with Air Niugini. To us that is not fair.
Titiulu said Fiji’s decision ‘seems to go away from the spirit of the initial air services agreement.’
“It’s a very good agreement. All we need to do is agree to the agreement and the code-share arrangement. The equity and reciprocity has been eroded through the process of cancelling each other’s flights, said Titiulu.
Meanwhile, Fijian Minister for Civil Aviation Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said Fiji's position remained consistent and that responsibility for the dispute rested with Solomon Islands Government.
“After the Solomons Government banned two successive Fiji Airways flights from Nadi to Honiara in breach of our Air Services Agreement, the decision was made to suspend all Solomon Airlines flights until the matter is resolved,” he said in a government statement.
Sayed-Khaiyum said the suspension included selling seats on airlines designated by Solomon Islands as code-share partners.
“We regret the inconvenience to the travelling public but this action was triggered by Solomon Islands and the responsibility lies with Honiara to make the first move,” he said.