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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 12, 1999 – The National)---Air Niugini's current unreliable service is the single biggest impediment to tourism growth and development, the PNG Tourism and Promotion Authority (PNGTPA) has claimed.

In a statement released yesterday, the PNGTPA board called for open domestic routes in the airline industry for healthy competition and better service.

The board made the call in relation to what it claims to be continuing delays, rescheduling and cancellation of flights by Air Niugini, which currently has a monopoly on many domestic routes.

At the TPA board's quarterly meeting in Kavieng last weekend, Chairman Fred Cook said that it was a disgraceful situation where a country and its citizens who rely heavily on air transport were virtually held at ransom by an airline whose schedule reliability is among the worst in the world.

"Regrettably the time has come to accept the reality that Air Niugini cannot provide the level of services required in this country and that the Office of Civil Aviation should allow other operators to bid for licenses to operate on Air Niugini routes," Mr. Cook said.

He said that if the Government is serious about its tourism development policy, then the skyways must be opened to additional carriers.

"Let competition be the determining factor for good reliable services. If we are going to bring the long-awaited tourist dollar to PNG, we must act now and see that our visitors are treated to a service comparable to other overseas tourist destination," he said.

"If the Government was genuine with its desire to see the country develop economically and socially, then it has to provide avenues for that to occur.

"Additional competition in an open sky environment will have the dual effect of improving the level of services and reliability as well as improving the business and social opportunities of the country," Mr. Cook said.

He said that PNG would never progress if the Government keeps propping up the airline to protect its investment while other sectors of the community are disadvantaged.

"Air Niugini's problems have been well documented over the past few years of decline and yet precious little has been done to fix them. Sadly, they stumble from crisis to crisis and the general public are the losers. Air Niugini's problems appear to be unsolvable now," Mr. Cook said.

Further, Mr. Cook noted a serious decline in the standards of the facilities at the airport terminals.

"The lack of maintenance of new facilities at Tokua and Port Moresby should be of great concern," he said.

Mr. Cook said that is was imperative to have viable and reliable domestic air services in the country for the development of the tourism industry, apart from the social and economic development of the country.

"Whatever happened to the proposal of corporatizing Air Niugini in 1996 with the plan to privatize in 1997? This is the only hope for the airline and yet we see this once proud airline bleeding and collapsing because of under-capitalization, an aging fleet, over staffing, indifferent management and an inability to effect a recovery plan," said Mr. Cook.

Mr. Cook said the TPA board welcomed the decision by Air Niugini to reopen the Japan route with charters.

However, he warned that unless the airline fixed their domestic operations the whole exercise would be a waste of time because the Japanese would simply not come.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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