A New Zealand-funded project to upgrade airport facilities in the remote Western Province of the Solomon Islands will benefit international airlines servicing the Pacific island nation's capital of Honiara.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who was in the Solomon Islands to open the new Munda runway, said it was the centerpiece of a major infrastructure investment scheme by the governments of New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.
"The next stage of this project will see the runway upgraded to international alternate status. This will bring major benefits for airlines servicing Honiara as it will reduce the amount of fuel they need to carry in case of emergency," McCully said in a statement from his office.
Currently, each aircraft carried about 7 tonnes of reserve fuel to reach the nearest alternate runway at Santo in Vanuatu, 604 nautical miles away.
But with Munda having international alternate status, at least 2.5 tonnes of fuel could be converted into payload, resulting in higher freight volumes, lower cargo rates and cheaper airfares.
"The improved runway will open up Western Province to tourism and create opportunities for village-level and large-scale operators. It will also allow for the safer and more effective movement of passengers and freight," McCully said.
The project also involved removal of nearly 5,100 unexploded ordnance items from World War II, including a 1,000-pound bomb, and over 5,700 items of small arms ammunitions.
New Zealand was providing up to 25 million NZ dollars ($20.17 million) to infrastructure projects in Western Province, which would also include the redevelopment of Nusatupe runway, which serviced the regional tourism hub of Gizo, McCully said.