RESIDENTS BLOCKADE NEW CALEDONIA AIRSTRIP OVER FARES

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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, April 22) - New Caledonia's Maré
Island airstrip in the Loyalty group has been blockaded since Friday by a group
of disgruntled landowners and users in an ongoing protest over a proposal by
domestic airline Air Calédonie (AirCal) to increase ticket prices, RFO's
Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

The group placed a chain in the middle of the small airstrip,
located near the village of La Roche on Maré.

Since Friday, domestic flights from Maré have been seriously
disrupted.

This also affected the visit on Maré by visiting French
transport minister Dominique Bussereau.

Earlier this month, the group has been vocal in protest against
AirCal's proposed increase in airfares.

AirCal last week agreed to postpone the price increase
implementation.

But the group of local users also demanded an encounter with
territorial transport minister Pierre Maresca.

AirCal chairman Olivier Razavet earlier admitted the company had
accumulated some CFP420 million (US$ 3.8 million) in losses over the past three
years.

Razavet said the downturn was mainly due to unfavorable
conditions worldwide and the subsequent rise in insurance premiums, which rose
from CFP38 million to CFP150 million in two years.

Maresca said that ticket prices had to "follow those
developments".

AirCal's chairman has since met several groups of disgruntled
users in the Loyalties, as well as New Caledonia's Council of Chiefs, locally
known as the Customary Senate.

AirCal, which enjoys a local monopoly and is heavily subsidized
by local authorities, alleged the Loyalty Islands province owes the company some
CFP150 million for tickets.

Razavet admitted the domestic airline was now "on the brink
of bankruptcy" and currently contemplates selling one of its four ATR-42
aircraft to generate an anticipated CFP200 million to CFP250 million cash flow.

It has already scrapped several domestic destinations, including
to the Southern Isle of Pines and Loyalty's Ouvéa, and in the process has lost
some 28,000 passengers in the past three years.

Last year, it also introduced a special tax of CFP500 per ticket
to make up for the increase in insurance costs.

By the end of March this year, AirCal was reported to have only
CFP11 million left in cash.

Last year, Air France's consulting arm, Air France Consulting,
performed a review of the company's operation and accounts.

It recommended a set of stringent measures and serious
restructuring to ensure AirCal operates normally again.

April 23, 2003

Oceania Flash: E-mail/Courriel:
padec@iname.com 

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