PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Aug. 28, 2008) - Virgin Blue is Coming… that headline on our front page report yesterday would have caused excitement to many, trepidation to others.

Our report quoted Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Don Polye as saying that the groundbreaking airline, the Australian offshoot of the Virgin air empire, was planning to enter the PNG skies very soon. It will do so in partnership with the Airlines of Papua New Guinea.

Minister Polye made it plain it was part of government policy to open up the skies of PNG to competition. And that is where the excitement comes from.

Competition will be good for all.

Air Niugini, which has carried the responsibility since Independence for providing air services on the main routes around the nation, will now find a heavy-breathing new kid on the block.

There have been signs that the national airline has been picking up its act recently, with the fleet being expanded and the air cargo service coming in for a major improvement.

The improvement will have to be continued and stepped up, for Sir Richard Branson, the founder and boss of the Virgin Empire, is not the kind of person to go at new ventures halfheartedly!

He has made a splash wherever he goes, much like the Irish entrepreneur who started the Digicel communications company, Denis O’Brien.

Like Mr. O’Brien, Sir Richard and Virgin are likely to come in hard, cut priced and with no frills.

It is not yet clear which ports Virgin Blue will provide services to, either internationally or within PNG, but one thing is hoped for: that people will find it easier and cheaper to fly.

One of the big questions to be answered is, will Air Niugini follow the example of Telikom when it first ran into the Digicel onslaught?

Or will it learn from those hard lessons and tackle the rivals with just as good bargains and improvements to services, immediately?

Papua New Guineans will not forsake their national airline without good reason. If Virgin Blue crashes into our market with good deals, all Air Niugini has to do is match them or better them!

Air Niugini has strong advantages: loyalty, being the incumbent and having a network of people, facilities and routes.

But they cannot presume that Virgin Blue will fall short of that. They must prepare to do the best they can for the customers to retain or regain their loyalty.

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