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, in line with the Democratic Coalition for Change Government’s (DCCG’s) Reprioritisation Policy

The Munda International Airport Project is co-funded by the Solomon Islands and New Zealand Governments.

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 to invest up to SBD110 million (NZ$20m) to co-fund the upgrade of Seghe and Suavanao airports in 2018 and to install approach lighting (NDBs Installation in Strategic airports throughout the country) at Nusa Tupe airport.

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 local passengers and tourists alike.

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 of airport terminal buildings at Seghe and Suavanao. 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 combined cost of the construction package is estimated to be SBD$143- Million (NZ$26m), with the New Zealand government contributing 75 percent of the funding and Solomon Islands’ Government 25 percent.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Aviation, Mr Moses Virivolomo 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.

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.

As for the Munda Airport upgrade, Mr Virivolomo said Civil works for the upgrade is in progress and include the installation of airfield ground lighting and navigation aids, perimeter security fencing, an airport rescue and firefighting 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.

On this note, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Aviation said, “The Solomon Islands government (DCCG) would like to thank the 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, in one way or the other, to secure this funds that will really boost the economic activities in the Tourism Sector and its beneficiaries.”

Meanwhile, Mr Virivolomo said similar upgrades will be done to other government- owned airport, such as Taro and Lata once funds are secured. “Similarly, upgrades can also be done to other domestic airports around the country upon the availability of funds and furthermore the purchase and ownership of required land by the government so as to avoid disputes and other associated factors,” he added.

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