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Kia Orana Air would compete with Air Rarotonga

By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 8, 2008) - The Cook Islands could soon have a second domestic airline if government approves Kia Orana Air’s license application.

The company says it is planning for the first flight to take off later this year.

The new ‘low-cost’ airline would go into direct competition with Air Rarotonga as an inter-island passenger and freight carrying service.

Kia Orana Air managing director Mark Lusby says the airline will provide the country with an alternative regular scheduled service to both the northern and southern group islands.

In the application to minister of civil aviation Tangata Vavia, Lusby says, "As minister you will be well aware of the current climate in relation to the airline industry in the Cook Islands."

Late last year Air Rarotonga increased airfares to the northern group by up to 69 percent.

This move was protested strongly, especially by the Manihiki community who asked the airline to justify the huge price hike.

Lusby is no stranger to the aviation industry - he’s been a pilot for 18 years now.

Lusby is now operating as a captain for All Nippon Airways in Japan on Boeing 767 aircraft. He was a pilot for Air Raro in the mid-90s as well.

Lusby has been working toward permanently living in Rarotonga with his wife Tekura and three children.

"There have been lots of sacrifices with commuting overseas but now that the dream is finally coming true, it has all been worth it," says Lusby.

He is finalizing plans for the airline offices, terminal and hangar facilities at the Rarotonga airport.

"It is very exciting to see years of hard work come to fruition. The support from all sectors including the outer islands has been overwhelming and I am looking forward to servicing the people of the Cook Islands. Our plans are fresh and exciting - all I want to do is to provide Cook Islanders and visitors alike with an efficient, safe and affordable flying choice."

He says the new service is being developed to take advantage of a specific gap in the domestic travel market for a low cost service.

Lusby says he and his wife are the principals of the company, but they have capital backing from overseas. He is still looking at a range of aircraft to use for the service but says they will be similar in capacity to Air Rarotonga aircraft.

"It is Kia Orana Air’s aim to reduce the overall cost of air travel, while operating a profitable airline," says the application.

The minister has issued a notice inviting public submissions on the license application, copies of which can be obtained from the ministry of transport. Submissions must be sent in by 14 May.

Another company will soon be seeking a license. Pacific Air Expeditions, owned by Dr Graham Wragg and wife Ulamila Kurai Wragg, aims to operate a small eight-passenger twin engine plane that will cater for locals as well as providing an outer island eco-tour service to visitors.

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