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Solomon Islands Chairman hosts first media update for 2022

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 01:00 PM in General News

Full transcript

We really appreciate you joining us once again for our 2022 update on the current financial and operational outlook, for our national carrier.

With me is Mr. Brett Gebers, our Chief Executive Officer, and Mr. Peter Soqoilo, our Finance Manager.

In today’s briefing, we wish to share with you an informed and straightforward picture of the current status and continued progress towards recovery.

In our last media briefing, we outlined the impact of COVID-19 on Solomon Airlines and the airline industry worldwide and closer to home in our region. I’m sure our CEO will be able to share a bit on that as well. We were also able to share with you how we were surviving through a combination of Government support, cost containment, sacrifice by many and innovative thinking. 

With our scheduled international operations grounded now for over two years, we have had to find ways to make incremental income through many sources, using our international aircraft which previously operated frequent services to Brisbane, for controlled repatriation flights, cargo, and special charters.

Through a combination of vital income from charters of our jet, leasing a Twin Otter to the Government of Kiribati, Government support, strong support through the emergence of COVID variants which have now ultimately reached our shores.

We have had to adapt quickly, repeatedly, to the changing environment and to ongoing border restrictions and we must still continue to do so, as we progress towards a potential reopening of the Solomon Islands international border.

On finances, at the beginning of this year, Solomon Airlines was poised to improve its revenue from both international and domestic services.

The operating environment changed dramatically when Covid arrived on our shores and into our communities. Our flight schedule was hit hard, and passenger numbers plummeted to a record low.

We are grateful that our national government has stepped in again to assist mitigate the sudden big drop in revenue, with funding support of SBD 6 million and the Australian Government through DFAT has assisted in subsidizing the domestic cargo services, as well as the international route to Brisbane.

Going forward the national airline will still need ongoing financial injection from the national government and we look forward to the opening of borders for international flights and the lifting of domestic travel restrictions. Increasing the scale and scope of our trading opportunities will greatly help our national airline trade out of this very difficult situation we are experiencing.

Our A320 jet continues with the service from Honiara-Brisbane flight, now a twice a week service, and flying charters including support for Air Kiribati as I mentioned. The Dash-8 is undergoing a major C-Check in Perth Australia and should be ready for commercial operations again around June.

This is central to our preparation for the reopening of the Solomon Islands borders which we are anticipating for July 2022 as announced by our Government.

Since 28 March, domestic passengers are able to fly to and from 20 destinations in our airline’s network, all of these subject to meeting the Solomon Islands Government COVID requirements for travel.

As we restart our flying, we will closely monitor passenger and cargo requirements and will add further flight frequencies as they are needed. As part of this, we also re-introduced our 21-day advance purchase discount fares on select routes to incentivise bookings.

We believe that as people become familiar with the new requirements, we will see more people flying and we are prepared to scale up our operations, to ensure we can fly everybody where they need to go.

Our Iumi Tugeda Holidays program has been reintroduced, and Solomon Airlines has joined with 30 local tourism operators, Tourism Solomons, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to announce the restart of the popular Iumi Tugeda Holidays program following the recommencement of domestic flights.

Prior to the recent impact of COVID-19 and suspension of all domestic passenger flights from Honiara, the program had recorded its highest ever monthly volume of travellers. In total over 650 passengers have taken the opportunity to see new parts of our country.

We are now ready to welcome guests across 7 provinces, 10 destinations, again offering up to 50% off holiday packages combined with discount Solomon Airlines flights. 

We are also now increasing our international scheduled flying, and this has been a significant announcement under our ‘Return to Flying’ program made yesterday and this is to do with the reintroduction of a 2nd weekly service between Brisbane and Honiara.

In making that decision and announcement we are moving a step closer to rebuilding the airline’s international schedule starting with Brisbane, our main international gateway. 

The decision to add an additional international service follows confirmation by the Solomon Islands Government that border re-opening planning is underway.

And so, in collaboration with the Australian Government’s Pacific Flights Program, the extra service will provide additional opportunities for passengers and cargo movement between Solomon Islands and Australia as we progress toward reopening Solomon Islands international border.

These challenging times have also required us to look within so that we can resize and restructure the company, and this we are now undertaking through a thorough review of the Solomon Airlines company structure.

Our objective is to determine the right organisational structure now and as our airline moves forward as a passenger, cargo, and charter service provider.

We must take into consideration that it will take several years for passenger demand to recover to pre-COVID levels and that our business is not the same and indeed will not be the same for several years yet.

The ‘new normal’ that awaits us with ongoing testing and safety requirements is already being experienced around the world. Many countries across Asia, Europe, the USA, and now the Pacific, are opening up to the world based on high vaccination rates and a standardised COVID-19 test program. It will be the same for Solomon Islands. 

We already mandate wearing face masks on our aircraft, have in place onboard COVID-19 safety procedures, and have been actively informing passengers of requirements, and supporting approval processes whilst still required by the Solomon Islands Government.

As people become familiar with the changes and new requirements, travel will only get easier and more open from here on, and that is something we all look forward to.

But in the meantime, we are also preparing so that we can ensure that from July when we anticipate borders will open, we can quickly switch on the next phase of our ‘Return to Flying’ program including Pacific Islands destinations and more frequency from Brisbane.

As always, we have great appreciation for Solomon Islands Government, the Australian and New Zealand Governments, who have been closely collaborating with us. 

Government support in various forms has been crucial in ensuring that our airline has survived this far and can continue to survive throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is vital for our economic future, that we can again safely connect Solomon Islands with the world once more.

There is no doubt that currently, as Solomon Islands emerges from a very frightening period of our country, hope is on the horizon, however, we are still in challenging times for our community and for our business.

Solomon Airlines to date is a story of survival against the odds because the commitment to maintaining our national carrier has come from our national Government, development partners, our management team and staff, pilots and engineers, and our many loyal customers and stakeholders who want to see Solomon Airlines recover, survive, revive and thrive.

Media is a very important partner in this pursuit going forward.

We all understand that this will take some time and we are grateful for that support. The socioeconomic development of Solomon Islands and Solomon Airlines go hand in hand and each one relies on the other. A stronger economy will facilitate development of a stronger airline, a stronger airline will support stronger social and economic growth.

In closing, I would also like to take this opportunity again to thank the Directors of Solomon Airlines Board, CEO, management, and all staff, pilots, and engineers of Solomon Airlines, in the country and in Brisbane for the strong efforts, dedication, and commitment to our national carrier.

I would also like to use this opportunity in closing, to thank you, members of the media, for staying with us on this story, for taking an interest in Solomon Airlines, and for accurately reporting on our circumstances. Your commentary is particularly important and influential.

Tankyu tumas.

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