A huge drawback for Solomon Airlines
SOLOMON Airlines is planning to sell off its sole Dash-8 Aircraft, a move which runs counter to the Government’s costly upgrade of regional aerodromes, sources have revealed.
The national carrier’s Chief Executive Officer, Brett Gebers outlined his Dash-8 sale off plan at the Airlines’ board meeting in Honiara last Friday.
According to sources, the plan is to replace the Dash-8 aircraft with an all-Twin Otter fleet which has half the passenger capacity of the Dash-8and. Also, Twin Otter aircraft are reportedly more expensive to operate in terms of fuel consumption. Solomon Airlines currently operates three Twin Otters including two of its outrightly owns.
The Dash-8 aircraft is one of three aircraft Solomon Airlines has completed their purchases and owns them outright. It carries 36 passengers as opposed to a Twin Otter, which carries just 18 passengers.
Solomon Airlines has only one Dash-8 aircraft which currently operates to Lata, Munda and Gizo. Dash-8 service has been withdrawn from Gwaunaru Airstrip on Malaita due to the condition of the airstrip.
According to the sources, the plan to sell off the Dash-8 aircraft is ’cooked up’ by a team in Brisbane, where CEO Gebers resides. The team allegedly did a similar sale of the airlines’ first Airbus A320 aircraft a few years ago.
“That sale cost Solomon Airlines a lot of money because the person who bought it found a lot of defects which had to be fixed by Solomon Airlines before he accepted the aircraft. It looks as if he’s trying to repeat the same thing with the planned sale of the Dash-8 Aircraft, Solomon Airlines’ very own,” the sources said.
What baffled some is why Solomon Airlines is doing this at a time when the Government has just begun upgrading regional aerodromes around the country to take on larger aircraft than the ageing Twin Otters.
Already the government has earmarked Seghe Airstrip in Western Province, Taro Airstrip on Choiseul and Lata Airstrip in Temotu Province for the initial phase of the aerodrome upgrade. It has already completed Kira Kira Airstrip to take on the Dash-8 on its flight to and from Lata.
“Solomon Airlines’ plan to sell off its Dash-8 Aircraft is a huge drawback on the development of the airline industry in this country. We are going backward while airlines in the region are moving forward, upgrading their fleet consistent with their governments’ policy to encourage tourism development,” the sources said.
There are also concerns about the lack of a succession plan for the national carrier.
“Ron Sumsum (the former CEO) has a legacy in Solomon Airlines – he built a hangar, bought the first Airbus and also the Dash 8. The new guy has not done anything for the airlines, the sources said.
“Since Mr. Gebers took over the CEO role not a single qualified Solomon Islands pilots has been given the opportunity to train to fly the Airbus A320, according to insiders.
“We have several captains who could have been easily moved up the ladder. But that is not happening because the airline does not have a succession plan. Instead, CEO Gebers brought two first officers (FO) from Australia to fly the Airbus A320 on its Brisbane-Honiara-Brisbane route,” they said.
The Airlines recently advertised two senior positions – a Commercial Manager and a Grounds Operations Manager. There are fears Mr. Gebers’ Brisbane team might have already handpicked “mates” to fill the two vacancies.
The sources said the Government needs to intervene in the Airlines’ Management and Board to ensure its plans align well with Government development policy for the airline and tourism industries.
The sources also questioned why the Airline Board has rehired its former secretary, Bill Tyson, as a consultant. Mr. Tyson retired recently after 14 years with Solomon Airlines.
By Alfred Sasako