SIMPLE FLYING – by Andrew Curran – September 8, 2021
Not necessarily well known outside the region, a handful of small airlines normally buzz around the southwest Pacific, keeping the islands connected and delivering essential cargo. But like airlines everywhere, these carriers have been impacted by border closures and travel restrictions.
From the better-known airlines such as Fiji Airways to smaller operators like Solomons Airlines, here is a snapshot of what’s happening at six airlines based across the South Pacific.
Fiji Airways eyes December flying reboot
As previously reported in Simple Flying, Fiji is eyeing re-opening its borders later this year. That’s got Fiji Airways aiming for December flights. Right now, aside from cargo flights and periodic repatriation services, it is pretty quiet at Nadi Airport.
Fiji Airways is planning to resume flying in mid-December. Keen to tap into hordes of Australians desperate for a holiday, Fiji Airways CEO Andre Viljoen said late last week;
“Come the 17th December, Fiji Airways will be ready to welcome Aussies back to our home, reuniting families and enjoying vacations. Should the opportunity arise for an early travel bubble between Australia and Fiji based on vaccination rates, rest assured we’re ready to fly you there.
“As of today, Fiji has a higher vaccination rate than Australia and is on target to have the entire working population vaccinated by November. This is an incredible achievement and puts us on track to be the most COVID-Safe holiday destination in the world. Ultimately, when Aussies are looking for COVID-safe travel, we want Fiji to be the ‘vacci-nation’ of choice.”ADVERTISEMENT
Fiji Airways has scheduled daily A350-900 flights to Sydney across December in anticipation of travel restrictions easing by then.
New Caledonia goes into a two-week lockdown
Noumea-based Air Calédonie is today suspending all flying for a fortnight. The airline normally operates ATR-72 flights around New Caledonia. However, the French territory kicked off a two-week lockdown on Wednesday.
“After having scheduled all possible flights today (Wednesday) to allow people stranded on the islands or in Noumea to return home, Air Calédonie is obliged to suspend all of its flights from September 8 until September 21,” reads a statement issued by the airline.
New Caledonia’s international airline, Aircalin, has three planes in the air, albeit operating at reduced tempos. The airline’s A320neo, F-OTIB, primarily flies to Sydney (SYD) and Wallis Island (WLS). But over August, F-OTIB has sat still for up to seven days between flights.
Aircalin’s pair of A330-900s are busier. F-ONEO is in the air most days, scooting between Noumea and Auckland, Sydney, or Tokyo. The second A330-900, F-ONET, is just back from a rather exotic run to Lisbon via Tokyo and Paris for a C-check at a TAP Air Portugal facility.
New Caledonia has currently banned entry for non-residents. With light passenger loads, these jets keep busy flying essential and time-sensitive cargo.
Samoa Airways tosses up whether to take a new Boeing 737-800
Apia-based Samoa Airways is in a world of pain. The tiny airline has parked its de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters. It is also minus its sole Boeing 737. Recently a leased Boeing 737-800 went back to Malindo Air with lease payments still outstanding.
Another leased Boeing 737-800 is due to replace the Malindo Air jet, but the new Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is questioning the wisdom of that.
“Essentially, it’s a process that was started by the former government that is in play, although there are still issues that have to be resolved and as those issues are resolved, or other matters come to light, then we will determine where we are exactly with Samoa Airways,” the PM said in early August.
Meanwhile, the incoming Boeing owed by FLY Leasing is cooling its engines in Brisbane. The Boeing 737-800 made a ferry flight there from Europe in July for pre-induction checks. But with the new Samoan Government unsure whether to take it, the plane has ventured to further.
Samoa is assessing travelers on a case-by-case basis before granting permission to enter the country, significantly reducing demand for passenger flights.
Solomon Airlines Airbus A320 a regular at Brisbane
Honiara-based Solomon Airlines normally buzzes around the southwest Pacific with flights to Brisbane, Port Vila, Nadi, and Kiribati and flights around the Solomons. Aside from a handful of turboprops used for inter-island flying, Solomon Airlines has a single Airbus A320-200 (registration H4-SIB) they used on international legs.
That international passenger flying is down to a single return flight between Honiara and Brisbane (BNE). Every Friday, IE701 departs BNE mid-morning for the two-hour and 45-minute flight to HIR. Later in the day, the jet returns to Brisbane.
In addition to those weekly Brisbane flights, the Airbus does a fair bit of additional flying, primarily ferrying cargo into the Solomons. At the time of writing, H4-SIB is en route from Guangzhou (CAN) to Biak-Supiori Island (BIK).
Brisbane a hub for southwest Pacific airlines
Port Vila-based Air Vanuatu runs a scaled-back schedule of flights around the southwest Pacific after Vanuatu suspended all in-bound passenger travel. The airline has a single Boeing 737-800 (registration YJ-AV8) it uses on its international sectors.
At the moment, Air Vanuatu is running weekly flights to Brisbane, Auckland, and Noumea. The airline is free to fly passengers out of Vanuatu (subject to the rules at the arrival destination) but is restricted to flying cargo back in. Vanuatu is due to revisit its travel restrictions in the coming days.
Also down to flying to Brisbane is Nauru Airlines. Nauru Airlines only operates one return passenger service a fortnight between Nauru and Brisbane. However, its handful of Boeing 737s keeps busy flying cargo and charters, primarily around Australia.
In the mix appears to be some Australian Government charter work to and from Christmas Island. Nauru Airlines has two Boeing 737s configured for passenger operations. Another two Boeings are exclusively configured to fly cargo.
Like most other small airlines in the region, Nauru Airlines is finding work where it can to keep its planes and crews in the sky.