SOLOMONS AIR RESUMES SERVICE WITH NEW PLANE

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By Robert L. Iroga

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Aug. 15) - Solomon Airlines was yesterday back flying international services using a Boeing 737-200 operated by Australian charter airline OzJet. But the Government-owned airline now faces possible legal action over its failure to pay for the Embraer 170 jet leased from another Australian airline, SkyAirWorld.

SkyAirWorld said it is continuing to charge Solomon Airlines for the E-170 jet now sitting on the ground in Brisbane. SkyAirWorld grounded the 76-seat E-170 on Friday, saying Solomon Airlines failed to make payments for leasing it. This stopped Solomon Airlines operating international flights Brisbane-Honiara-Brisbane and Honiara-Nadi (Fiji)-Honiara.

Solomon Airlines now switching to an OzJet plane has angered SkyAirWorld. It says the Solomon Airlines agreement to lease the E-170, which began in May, is for a minimum of three years. SkyAirWorld chief executive David Charlton told the Solomon Star last night that he was not told about the changes Solomon Airlines made.

"I contacted them every day but they never respond," he said in reference to Solomon Airlines’ management. Mr. Charlton said since the grounding of the E-170 on Friday they have continued to charge Solomon Airlines. They will continue to do so for the next three years if Solomon Airlines breaches the agreement, he said. He did not rule out legal action, saying SkyAirWorld will look at all possible options. Charlton has declined to say how much Solomon Airlines owes it. But it is believed to be substantial.

It has also emerged this was the second time SkyAirWorld had grounded the E-170 because Solomon Airlines had not paid lease fees. The previous grounding Solomon Airlines blamed on a technical problem.

Finance Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo told the Solomon Star yesterday that Solomon Airlines has now entered an arrangement with OzJet to provide a 110-seat Boeing 737-200. Mr. Lilo also confirmed Solomon Airlines is in deep financial trouble. He described its financial status as "bleeding." But the minister is confident that with the powerful new board he has appointed the airline can be revived.

The new board is headed by Central Bank Governor Rick Hou and includes former governor Tony Hughes and former Solomon Airlines chief executive Gidoen Zoleveke Junior.

Lilo said one of the factors being looked at is the right Nauru’s Our Airline has to operate Brisbane-Honiara-Brisbane in competition with Solomon Airlines.

Our Airline uses its 130-seat Boeing 737-300 on the route, as part of a service that also goes to Nauru and Tarawa (Kiribati).

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