Interview: Frederick Reiher
What potential exists at present for Port Moresby to become a regional aviation hub?
FREDERICK REIHER: One of our key strategies is to promote Port Moresby as a gateway to the Pacific and Asia by linking airports in Asia to airports in the Pacific Islands and Australia. This will entail increasing the frequency of services to key destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Denpasar and Narita, as well as to China, in the near future. The high costs and low volumes characterising the domestic industry in the past had prevented us from taking full advantage of such opportunities. However, examining the current economic realities of each of the Pacific regional players leaves little doubt that Papua New Guinea should undertake a more assertive leadership role. As the national airline, we have recently introduced flights to Port Vila in Vanuatu. We will also seek to increase the frequency of services to Honiara and Nadi as soon as possible.
Moreover, we aim to establish links with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands and New Zealand. The concept of Pacific integration is gradually turning into a reality. Although international passenger and cargo traffic on many routes remain thin by international standards, we are developing code sharing and reciprocal airline arrangements with Qantas on the Australian routes, and soon with Solomon Airlines and Air Vanuatu, while discussions are also being held with Garuda and Philippine Airlines.
To what extent could additional international links in PNG facilitate regional integration?
REIHER: At the moment the objective is to promote Port Moresby as a regional hub. From here, visitors would be able to reach the rest of the country, especially after upgrades to the fleet are completed for both international and domestic flights thanks to seven Fokker 70 jet aircrafts, which will be replacing the existing Bombardier Q400 in 2016. Aviation is an extremely competitive industry and having the right equipment is necessary to stay on top of the game. The Fokker 70 will enable the airline to bring jet services to key domestic airports currently served by turboprop aircraft, while allowing new regional and international routes to be opened up where existing aircraft in the fleet are too large.
While it is possible to open direct international links to additional centres in PNG –especially from the point of view of the local administration –if it does not make economic sense, it is not something that we will pursue as a national airline. Of course PNG has an open sky policy and any other operator would be free to open those routes if interested. That said, the airline’s strategy is aligned with the national government’s policy of developing four major provincial hubs – Port Moresby (administration), Lae (industry), Mt Hagen (agriculture) and Kokopo/Rabaul (tourism) – where more flights will be added as demand increases.
What kind of measures have been taken to improve air connectivity across PNG?
REIHER: The National Airports Corporation is currently implementing a major programme to upgrade airports so that they are able to handle larger and faster aircraft, particularly the Fokker 70 and 100 aircrafts. This has included Hoskins, where upgrades have already been completed, Lae, Vanimo, Goroka and Kieta. As for Air Niugini, in 2014 we formed a subsidiary airline called Link PNG, which provides services to remote communities where passenger numbers may not deliver profitability, but where residents need air services to the national capital as well as to major provincial centres.
PNG continues to face several challenges when it comes to road networks and air transport is often the only way to stay connected. Link PNG operates seven Dash-8 turboprop aircraft at present to airports which Air Niugini did not previously service, such as Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands, and between Lae and Mt Hagen, Kiunga and Tabubil. Future opportunities are expected to include Jacquinot Bay, Kandrian and Hayfield once their airports are upgraded to the required standard.
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