THE New Zealand Government has agreed to invest $110million to co-fund the upgrade of Seghe and Suavanao airports next year and to install approach lighting at Nusa Tupe Airport.
In a statement on Tuesday, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Aviation Moses Virivolomo said the combined cost of the construction package is estimated at $143million.
Mr Virivolomo said New Zealand Government will contribute 75 per cent of the funding and Solomon Islands Government 25 per cent.
He said the planned upgrades involve;
* reshaping, extending and sealing Seghe and Suavanao runways to 1,000m and 1,200m respectively,
* installing airfield lighting at Seghe, Suavanao and Nusa Tupe to lengthen Solomon Airlines operational hours and upgrading airport terminal buildings at Seghe and Suavanao.
He said the upgrades will allow Solomon Airlines to land its Dash 8 aircraft at these key tourism destinations, contributing directly to greater passenger movements, improved flight scheduling and tourism growth.
The Dash 8 aircraft can carry up to 39 passengers.
“The improvements will bring a range of benefits to the people and the government of Solomon Islands, including more reliable scheduling of flight services, increased passenger movements, longer operational hours, increased tourist visits to the Western and Isabel provinces, improved safety, increased aviation freight and further government revenue from the aviation sector.
“Currently, the length, surface and strength of the runways mean that flights into Seghe and Suavanao are limited to Twin Otters, which can only carry a maximum of 19 passengers.”
“Domestic flights are frequently rescheduled due to wet and unsafe landing conditions, impacting on the local passengers and tourists alike,” Mr Virivolomo said.
He said preliminary work, which will commence in the next three months, includes developing detailed design and specifications, and clearing the aerodromes of WW2 unexploded ordnance.
“This is the first phase of the airports’ upgrade work to come,” he said.
The Governments of Solomon Islands and New Zealand have advanced plans to invest further in provincial airport upgrades after the completion of the Munda International Airport at the end of this year.
Mr Virivolomo said this is in line with the Democratic Coalition for Change Government’s (DCCG’s) Reprioritisation Policy 22.214.171.124(g).
The Munda International Airport Project is co-funded by the Solomon Islands Government and New Zealand Government.
Mr Virivolomo said the initiative to invest further in provincial airport upgrade comes on the back of the former New Zealand Foreign Minister, Hon Murray McCully’s recent approval for the New Zealand Government invest up to SBD110 million (NZ$20m).
Meanwhile, the permanent secretary added that once additional funds are secured, similar upgrades will be done to other government- owned airport, such as Taro and Lata.
“Similarly, further upgrades can be done to other domestic airports around the country, once funds are available and required land are purchased and owned by the government to avoid disputes and other associated factors,” he said.
“This body of work represents a significant milestone in the development partnership between New Zealand and Solomon Islands, with both Governments recognising the strategic importance of upgrading aviation infrastructure to improve access to services and markets and as an enabler to achieving Solomon Island tourism potential.”
He said the project leverages off New Zealand and Solomon Islands current investment in the aviation sector, including work currently underway to upgrade Munda Airport to ‘emergency alternative’ status and investment in airport management to enhance safety, security and improve the flight experience for the traveling public.
Mr Virivolomo said civil works for Munda Airport upgrade are in progress and include the installation of airfield ground lighting and navigation aids, perimeter security fencing, an airport rescue and fire fighting facility and the procurement of two fire trucks.
“Because Henderson Airport is currently the only international airport in Solomon Islands, all international flights into Solomon Islands are required to carry enough aviation fuel to make a return trip home in case they can’t land at Henderson due to unforeseen circumstances, such as bad weather.
“This limits passenger numbers and the cargo weight of flights from Australia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji, driving up the cost of deliveries and travel for businesses and consumers,” he added.
He then thanked New Zealand Government for providing the necessary funding for these works to eventuate in the aviation sector, in particular those who have been very instrumental to secure this funds that will really boost the economic activities in the tourism sector and its beneficiaries.