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By Moffat Mamu

BRISBANE, Australia (Solomon Star, March 30) – Solomon Airlines is hopeful Australia will grant permission for it to operate direct passenger and cargo services between Brisbane and Honiara via Santo, Vanuatu.

Airline manager Wilson Ne’e told Solomon Star that what Solomon Airlines needs is the Fifth Freedom Rights (FFR) to enable them provide services between Brisbane and Santo.

Under international aviation laws, Solomon Airlines has to obtain the FFR from the governments of countries which it wants to operate direct flights and carry passengers and cargoes through.

"We are hopeful that Australia will decide soon on granting us this right," Mr Ne’e said.

He stated that a delegation from Solomon Airlines had already met with Australia’s new High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands Peter Hooton recently to discuss the issue.

"The response was positive as Mr Hooton has indicated to us that he will be taking up the matter before the Australian Government" he said. "It is a matter of time before the clearance will be granted to Solomon Airlines."

Mr Hooton when presenting his letters of credentials to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare two weeks ago stated also that he would be taking up the matter with his government.

Solomon Airlines is currently undertaking a six month lease with Spain, which will expire in April. The lease was to enable Solomon Airlines use Spain’s 737-300 aircraft to expand its service to Santo following an agreement between Solomon Islands and Vanuatu governments last year.

Solomon Star understands the Vanuatu government granted Solomon Airlines the FFR before the first inaugural flight from Honiara to Santo last December, but Solomon Airlines could not operate its intended direct flight between Santo and Brisbane because Australia did not issue Solomon Airlines with a FFR up until now.

At the time of organising the Santo, Solomon Airlines expected the granting of the FFR from Australia as a matter of formality, but things did not turn out - a thing which many believed to have been connected to the diplomatic stand-off between SI and Australia.

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