SECOND AIRSTRIP BLOCKED BY ANGRY NEW CALEDONIANS

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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, April 30) - A group of disgruntled
users and traditional land owners on Tuesday blockaded a second airstrip in New
Caledonia's Loyalty Islands group, RFO's Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

The move is again motivated by a proposed increase in domestic
airline Air Calédonie (AirCal) ticket prices.

The company says the increase, about US$2 per ticket, is
necessary to keep up with increased costs.

For the past ten days, the small airstrip in Maré Island, La
Roche, has been paralyzed by picketing.

On Tuesday, on neighboring Lifou Island, the airstrip of Wanaham
was also blockaded.

Lifou is the Loyalties' largest island and it generates some 47
percent of AirCal passenger and cargo traffic.

AirCal's ATR-42 plane, once it landed early in the morning, was
forced to stay by a group of locals, including high chiefs, who sat on the
tarmac.

They said it already costs CFP21,000 (around US$200) for a
return flight from Lifou to the capital Nouméa.

The protesters want "preferential tariffs" for Lifou
Islanders and "three free ticket for the three High chiefs" of the
Island.

The plane was finally allowed to take off late on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, a special meeting of New Caledonia's congress
resolved to oppose any proposed increase in the domestic airline Air
Calédonie's ticket prices.

At its Monday meeting, which took place behind closed doors, the
congress also gave the nod for AirCal to go ahead with its plan to sell one of
its four ATR-52 planes.

The congress also urged the Loyalty Islands province to pay some
CFP150 million (US$1.5 million) in arrears owed to AirCal.

Another measure was to endorse the report of a review performed
last year into AirCal's affairs by Air France Consulting (the French airline's
consulting arm).

The review concluded to the urgent need for AirCal to engage
into stringent reforms and rationalise its cost structure.

AirCal also admits it is on the brink of bankruptcy with losses
running into the millions in the past three years.

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 the unfavorable
global aviation market and the subsequent rise in insurance premiums.

May 1, 2003

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

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