A NEW charter airline plans to take arriving tourists straight from Honiara International Airport to their resorts – and bring them back to catch flights home.
Solomon Islands Seaplanes Limited has applied to operate a Grumman Goose amphibian, which carries about nine passengers, here from December.
It also want to use two Beechcraft 18s, which carry about eight passengers, as land-based aircraft.
It is expected to get immediate support from Western Province tourism operators who have criticised the capacity of Solomon Airlines domestic flights.
One resort operator last week said Gizo area operators had lost about 300 bed nights in the past two months because Solomon Airlines could not provide enough seats.
The charter service plans also coincide with the launch of services here in December by Australian low-cost airline Virgin Blue’s international offshoot Pacific Blue.
This is tipped to boost tourism. But it is also expected to face accommodation problems in Honiara , unless tourists can be immediately transferred outside of Honiara .
The Air Transport Licensing Authority says it has considered the Solomon Islands Seaplanes Limited proposal. It has determined it has merit and is now advertising it, as required, for any objections.
The Grumman Goose would take off from Honiara International Airport . It would then land and take off from the sea alongside resorts like those in the Western Province and Marau Sound.
The service would mean tourists would be able to reach their resorts quicker after arrival. They would be able to connect with their return international flights easier and with more certainty.
The Beechcraft 18s would operate to tourism destination airstrips like Munda and Gizo.
It is believed Solomon Islands Seaplanes has already had discussions with Brisbane-based SkyAirWorld about all this.
SkyAirWorld is marketing holiday packages from Australia to Sanbis Resort off Gizo and the Gizo Hotel in Gizo.
The Solomon Islands Seaplanes application says it would be operating strictly as a charter airline. It would not offer regular passenger services or sell seats on a seat by seat basis.
But it is still likely to cause concern and possible objections from Solomon Airlines. The national airline currently operates the country’s only domestic air services, using a fleet of three Twin Otters and a Britten Norman Islander.
It has been operating late afternoon Twin Otter flights to the West and overnighting the plane at Gizo in an effort to meet tourism connections.
Solomon Airlines has rebuilt its fleet from one to three Twin Otters.
But it also needs to operate flights to other domestic destinations throughout the country. It has also had planes out of servuce awaiting the arrival of parts to get the planes back flying.
This has led to continuing criticism from tourism operators, who question Solomon Airlines’ capacity to provide seats and reliability on domestic tourism routes.
An email from Sanbis Resort managing director Hans Mergozzi to Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau last week highlighted this, saying:
“Due to Solomon Airlines’ lack of capacity (and unwillingness to expand their domestic operation), we cannot get people to the West! We estimate that we have lost so far (in the last 2 months) about 60 bookings between us.
“That would translate into around 300 bed nights! I am now actually considering to cancel all our advertising as it is a complete waste of money to generate the enquiries and then be told by the airline that almost every flight between now and Christmas is booked out.
“We all hope that soon there will be another domestic operator (maybe even before Christmas) to assist in bringing people to the West.
“Getting Virgin Pacific here is a great idea and sounds good on the surface but is pretty useless when every bed in Honiara is almost booked out and the domestic operation of SolAir is incapable to move people out of Honiara .
“We in the West will have to wait in frustration and see … whilst our occupancy rates (that could be fantastic right now) are ridiculously low!
“Hence, any assistance and lobbying from the SIVB and Ministry of Tourism to push Solomon Airlines to expand their domestic operation would be greatly appreciated!”
Solomon Airlines is also facing likely domestic competition from SkyAirWorld, which has already got Air Transport Licensing Authority approval.
SkyAirWorld wants to fly its 76-passenger Embraer E170 jet into Munda airport when this is upgraded. Work on this is now expected to start as soon as the contractors finish upgrading Seghe airport.
SkyAirWorld has also been looking at using Cessna Caravans for local flights. These can carry up to 12 passengers and also operate as amphibians.
From 2 December the already heavy pressure on domestic air services to destinations like Gizo is expected to increase even further.
That’s when Pacific Blue’s two Boeing 737-800 flights a week join Solomon Airlines (one Boeing 737-800, three Boeing 737-300s) flights and SkyAirWorld (three E170/190s) on the Brisbane-Honiara-Brisbane route.