Airline conference ends

MORE than 80 delegates attended the 34th annual general meeting of the Association of South Pacific Airlines (ASPA) from May 4 to 6 in Honiara.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare officially opened the bi-annual conference, which focused on the theme “Aviation & the Environment”.

Mr Sogavare commended the work of ASPA in providing the ideal forum for all stakeholders to come together to discuss and find solutions to the many challenges facing air transport in the region.

“I was impressed with the variety of interests represented in the conference and the widespread of membership covering almost every continent,” Mr Sogavare said.

He added he was confident that the collective expertise would be more than sufficient to help the airlines enhance the operational viability of regional air services.

Mr Sogavare congratulated the association in its 30th year of continuous activity, and noted that ASPA was probably the longest serving regional private sector organisation in the South Pacific.

The prime minister said he was particularly pleased that ASPA had chosen the Environment as its theme for the meeting.

“The Theme was timely because it was the leading topic not only in the region but also globally, following the Paris Agreement reached in December, 2015, and the signing of that Agreement  (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -UNFCCC) in New York in April.”

Mr Sogavare added that the region had been the victim of the impact of climate change as countries continued to experience cyclones, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis with more frequencies and strength.

He said although the aviation industry only contributed less than 2% of the global carbon emission, he was pleased that the airlines of the South Pacific has taken interest to help reduce carbon emission.

He noted the major challenges identified by the airlines in their collective efforts to improve regional connectivity, such as deficiencies in airport runways, non-operational navigation aids, as well as restrictive and unbalanced air services agreements.

Mr Sogavare agreed that these were issues that governments needed to address and that the Solomon Islands’ Government would ensure that they do everything possible within their means to address issues concerned with his country’s aviation infrastructure and services.

He also concurred that the region’s leaders needed to ensure that the airlines are given the appropriate policy framework to allow them to develop better air connectivity within the region, using existing resources in partnerships that are beneficial to all stakeholders.

ASPA chairman Simon Foo, who is also the CEO of Air Niugini, thanked the pime minister for his encouraging remarks and for taking time away from his busy schedule to officially open the conference.

Mr Foo also acknowledged the presence of the deputy leader of the Opposition, signifying government’s bi-partisan support for the importance of aviation to the social and economic development of the region and the role that ASPA played in this development.

He thanked the Prime Minister for highlighting some of the challenges faced by regional airlines who operated under a variety of airport standards and services, which limited the airlines from optimizing aircraft utilization and achieving economies of scale because of the need to acquire several aircraft types to meet these operational limitations.

In addition, some restrictive and unbalance air services agreements needed to be reviewed to ensure that the ASAs allowed the airlines to cooperate and share limited resources to improve air connectivity within the region.

The airlines recognised that ASAs are government responsibilities and therefore urged governments to provide the right policy framework to allow the airlines to plan and develop strategies to improve air connectivity and enhance the economic viability of air services within the region.

The conference provided a useful forum to share ideas and address issues of common interest.

It also provided the opportunity for Industry Service Providers to present their products and services.

Presentations were planned in such a way, that they covered a wide variety of products and services that the airlines needed for their day to day operations.

These included presentations form the aircraft manufacturers, aircraft and engine leasing companies, insurance, global distribution systems and aeronautical communications systems.

IATA presented the state of the industry and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation provided an update on tourism development in the region.

The conference also heard about the legal interpretation of competition laws by states and how this could impact on airline cooperative efforts for mutual benefits, such as to gain economies of scale, but could be viewed by competition laws as collusion and anti-competitive behaviour.

Airlines had been cautioned to ensure that whatever deals they entered into were not viewed as predatory behaviour.

The legal expert acknowledged that this would be a challenge to the carriers but that they needed to be aware of.

The Forum Secretariat also provided feedback from the states and ASPA about the PIASA review Report, and sought further inputs from the airlines, based on the feedback, as to what further action needed to be taken.

The Forum Secretariat representative however explained that the withdrawal of the aviation division within SPC (Pacific Community) meant that there was no clear pathway available to address regional aviation issues.

The airlines believed that aviation was such an important industry for the region, that in the absence of the Council of Civil Aviation Ministers Forum, the Forum Island Leaders should consider addressing  PIASA and ASAs and other aviation related matters in their annual meeting.

Prior to the two-day conference the airlines held its 34th Annual General meeting, and re-elected

Simon Foo as Chairman and Geoff Bowmaker, CEO of Nauru Airlines, as vice chairman.

The executive committee was made up executives from Air CALIN, Solomon Airlines, Air Vanuatu, PNG Airlines, and Air Tahiti,

In his closing remarks, the chairman thanked delegates for taking the time to attend the two day conference, and expressed his confidence that everyone seemed happy with the discussions but more so with the interaction that took place outside the conference room.

He expressed the delegates’ appreciation to the host airline and the government of the Solomon Islands for their support and hospitality.

The conference was attended by 87 delegates, including Airlines, Airports, Aircraft Manufactures, Leasing Companies, Aviation Consultants, Regulator, Insurance Broker, Global Distribution Systems Providers ANS Providers and other Industry Service Providers and Observers.

Representatives from the South Pacific Tourism Organization, Forum Secretariat, and the Climate Change Authority of PNG also attended and made presentations.

The 65th ASPA General Session will be held in Port Vila, Vanuatu, 12-13 October, 2016, hosted  by Air Vanuatu.