Regional aviation shakeup as airlines struggle

A first of its kind Pacific aviation strategy has been accepted by regional aviation ministers and will be put to Pacific leaders when they meet next week in Fiji.

The aviation industry in the Pacific was hit hard by the COVID pandemic. In most countries, many employees in the aviation industry were laid off as flights remained grounded until recently.

Some nations are still closed to international flights.

Samoa returned its B737-800 plane adding foreign airlines would be sufficient to service local markets in Samoa.

There is also a suggestion on the table for a regional funding mechanism to purchase aircrafts. Supply chains, tourism and movement of people issues are being addressed in the 10-year-draft plan which will contribute to the Blue Pacific Strategy.

Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, and Vanuatu attended the Regional Aviation Ministers Meeting.

It is now up to the Pacific forum leaders to endorse ways to collectively transform regional aviation post-pandemic to ensure the Pacific region has a safe, secure, and sustainable aviation system for the benefit of the people of the Pacific.

A Fiji Airways plane at the Nadi Airport. A first of its kind Pacific aviation strategy has been accepted by regional aviation ministers and will be put to Pacific leaders when they meet next week in Fiji Picture: Fiji Airports

RAMM2 Chair, the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport, Robert Tapaitau said the meeting was an important opportunity for the region to come together and positively discuss concerns over the challenges the aviation sector faced, especially where it impacted air connectivity within the region.

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“I’m pleased that we can maintain our momentum to improve aviation for all of us in our Blue Pacific region, particularly noting aviation’s important role in enabling livelihoods and connecting all our Pacific people together,” Mr Tapaitau said.

The draft plan could eventuate with the Pacific becoming more accessible. For the Pacific, air transport is a key to regional economic prosperity.

Samoa Airways returned its B737-800 aircraft. Picture: Samoa Airways

Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dr. Filimon Manoni, said aviation has been highlighted as a key priority area in the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy.

“Not only as an enabler of intra-regional transport, but also as a driver of our long-term economic development, whether that be through the shipment of goods, the movement of people, or the transport of tourists across our region,” he said.

“As we move forward, I propose that as the PIFS and as a CROP agency, that we work with Ministers to ensure that there are clear linkages between the 2050 Strategy and its aviation-related areas, and the critical work that Ministers are driving, particularly through the Pacific Regional Aviation Strategy.”

Another important concern raised at the meeting was the need to upgrade infrastructure and come to terms with the latest in aviation technology.

Pacific ministers noted an update on the impacts of COVID-19 on aviation in the Pacific and agreed to support long-term collaboration and explore regional approaches for sustainable aviation recovery post-pandemic.

The Auckland – Suva direct flights have resumed. Picture: Fiji Airports

The COVID-19 aviation impact assessment by the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility identifies aviation recovery scenarios and priority areas of support for states moving towards border reopening.

Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Juan Carlos Salazar said it is reassuring that many Pacific countries are gradually emerging from the pandemic and adapting their aviation systems to the demands of the recovery and new normal.

“ICAO applauds your dedicated efforts, both individually and through close regional cooperation, to modernise operations and upgrade critical infrastructure. These actions will improve network flexibility and increase resilience, and particularly in times of crisis and their aftermath,” he said.

Aviation Ministers are looking forward to meeting face-to-face for the next RAMM3 in late 2023. It is expected confirmation of the RAMM3 host government will be announced soon.

The Pacific Aviation Safety Office, as the RAMM Secretariat, will continue to progress regional actions in collaboration with the region’s aviation officials in the lead up to RAMM3.

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