Despite owing SIG & suppliers $57m, new Chair Wickham is optimistic about SolAir
Solomon Airlines newly appointed Chairman Mr Frank Wickham is confident of a sustainable future for the airline despite the national carrier owing $57m to the government and its suppliers.
In his first meeting with the press, Chairman Wickham opened the door of the airline board to allow the press to quiz him and his board and management on the current state of play of the airline.
Journalists were given the opportunity to ask about the current financial position of the airline to its technical aspect.
Amidst all the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the closure of the international borders, Wickham said grounding the airline will never be an option and the national carrier would go ahead with its business.
In comparison to other regional airlines, Solomon Airlines is doing well in this time of pandemic, said senior board member Bob Pollard.
Finance Manager, Peter Soqoilo revealed to journalists that the airline’s latest credit balance is $57m of which $34m relates to government whilst $22m is for the lease of the A320 aircraft and a twin-otter so as two companies that supply spare-parts for national carrier’s aircrafts.
CEO of Solomon Airlines Brett Gebers told journalists that the airline has been consistent with its repayments except that it does not have the funds currently to clear out the entire bill.
The Airline’s $34m outstanding with the government is in unpaid departure taxes.
Wickham said his board will be working with the government to address these outstanding debts.
Meanwhile the pandemic has happened when the Airline was starting to see growth in its operations.
“By the end of 2019, Solomon Airlines was ideally positioned for growth in 2020 but like all airlines, did not expect the the consequent collapse of the aviation and travel industry due to COVID-19.
“Even in light of the challenges and losses being sustained, the airline has maintained regular scheduled domestic flights to all ports throughout the Solomon Islands and has made the majority of its revenue by actively seeking international charter work,” said Wickham.
He said the CEO and other Airline officials are working behind the scene to arrange charters and this is where the national carrier gets most of its funds to run its operations.
“While borders remain closed and scheduled international flights are suspended, Solomon Airlines has operated numerous Government approved charter flights to Australia, New Zealand, Australia, China, Philippines, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga.
“Our national carrier is resilient and looking forward I am very confident of our sustainable future. We are turning a page, with the distribution of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccinations now occurring and commencement of travel bubbles within the South Pacific region.
“Solomon Airlines has survived through careful management of costs, the goodwill of creditors, strong Government support in the form of a concessional loan and stimulus grant, domestic tourism initiatives and securing charter work for the A320 aircraft.
“While it is still probably a year before we can return to normal operations and profitability, our focus now is on shoring up continuing financial viability until borders open and the volume of international traffic can again be developed.
“International charters will continue to generate as much income as possible and we will seek to work with our regional airline partners to maximise assistance to each other.
“Like airlines everywhere we are also reliant on ongoing government support, and until borders open we are preparing our fleet, our team and our plans to ramp up our services as soon as we are allowed to do so,” said Wickham.