ATTORNEY General Billy Titiulu says he hopes to initiate talks with his Fijian counterparts to resolve the air service dispute currently raging between the two countries when he returns home.
He was speaking to the Solomon Star in Palau where he’s attending the 45th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders with Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo.
The dispute, which started some three weeks ago, is worsening after Fiji took another action by suspending Solomon Airlines’ current Honiara–Nadi code share arrangements with Air Niugini, a move that has seriously affected passengers travelling between the two countries.
Mr Titiulu, who is also chairman of the Solomon Islands Civil Aviation Authority board, said he acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and its negative impact on the travelling public and hopes to get the two sides to sit down and talk when he returns home.
He said the dispute started when a request from Fiji to operate a second flight to Honiara was not accepted.
Prior to the dispute, Fiji Airways operated a weekly Nadi-Honiara service on Tuesdays. Solomon Airlines operated on the same route on Saturdays.
Mr Titiulu said recently they received a request from Fiji asking if they could operate a second flight to Honiara on Saturdays.
“When we received the request, we wrote back and told our counterparts in Fiji that this cannot be possible because Solomon Airlines already operated the route on Saturdays too,” Mr Titiulu said.
“If they had asked for a different day apart from Saturday, we could have considered it. We don’t know why they wanted Saturday when they already knew Solomon Airlines flies the route on the same day.
“We told them that we have to sit down together during our upcoming meeting in Vanuatu and talk over this,” he added.
But the attorney general said Fiji responded by suspending the approved Solomon Airlines flight on Saturdays to Nadi.
“I believe Fiji has overacted to our decision not to accept their request to operate a second flight on Saturdays to Honiara.
“As a result of what Fiji unfairly did to us, we have no option but to also suspend their Tuesday flights to Honiara,” he said.
Last week, Fiji took the dispute to another level by refusing any passengers flying into Fiji on code-share arrangement with Air Nuigini using Solomon Airlines tickets.
Mr Titiulu said what Fiji did was cancelled Solomon Airlines code-share arrangement with Papua New Guinea, which means Papua New Guinea Airlines cannot accept passengers with Solomon Airlines tickets on their plane.
Air Niugini operates bi-weekly services between Port Moresby and Nadi via Honiara.
Mr Titiulu said Solomon Islands and Fiji have a long standing air arrangement that dates back to the 1990s.
He said the arrangement was based on equity and reciprocity.
“It was under this agreement that flights were arranged between our two countries,” he said.
“The actions that Fiji took that resulted in the current dispute is, in my view, unfair.
“It has eroded the long-standing good relationship between the two countries.
“We have always been good to Fiji. We have allowed them to fly into Honiara despite them having no air certificate to flying into our country, which is an international requirement.
“Fiji has not allowed us to pick up passengers on the Vila-Nadi route while we allow them to do that.
“So I think we have been all these time good to Fiji and we expect them to do likewise.
“What they are doing to us now is not fair.”
Meanwhile, the Association of South Pacific Airlines said the dispute between the two countries can only be resolved through the intervention of their prime ministers of both countries, the Association of South Pacific Airlines said.
George Faktaufon, secretary-general of the Association of South Pacific Airlines, said currently “no one is talking”.
He said the relevant government ministries have been unable to resolve the dispute.
“There needs to be some dialogue between the two leaders,” he told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program.
“The direction must come from the top.”
Mr Faktaufon said it is the first time services between two Pacific countries have been severed.
The main aim of the Association of South Pacific Airlines is to improve co-operation and transport links within the Pacific.
But Mr Faktaufon said the association is powerless in the dispute.
“We have no control over the bilaterals and we have no real control over what the airlines do.”
“The resolution rests entirely on the airlines and the governments.”
By OFANI EREMAE
in Koror, Palau