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Fiji Sun

Opinion

Finding The Direct Flight

Finding The Direct Flight
December 29
10:48 2015

Rosi Doviverata is the Fiji Sun’s Managing Editor Digital. She visited China on a study and development programme  with the All-China Journalists Association.

 

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials who look after the Pacific have confirmed that discussions are ongoing regarding a possible direct air route between Fiji and China.

 With a steady increase of tourist arrival figures from China over the years, it only makes sense to do so.

 Across the Pacific Ocean in New Zealand, Air China’s inaugural service from Beijing to Auckland International Airport began earlier this month. This service restores the direct link flown by Air New Zealand three years ago.

On the South Island, China Southern Airlines began a historic new service too. This is in partnership with Christchurch Airport and the South Island tourism industry. China Southern Airlines will fly directly between Guangzhou, in the south of China, and Christchurch three times a week.

An estimated NZ$100m annual visitor spending is expected for the South Island economy.

The Christchurch Airport chief executive said the new service was made possible after two years of very focused work by the team at Christchurch Airport, working in China with the team at China Southern Airlines.

Here at home, this is the kind of focused work that will need to be carried out before anything of substance materialises.

 Dixon Seeto, president of the Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association, said that even before talking about having direct flights, the Fijian and Chinese Government need to agree on a “suitable air services aggrement” (ASA).

(ASAs or Air Services Agreements are legal agreements between two countries (or regions) which ascertain the rights of the parties to the ASAs and determine the passenger and freight traffic that can travel between the two countries or regions.)

“We have to agree on what is suitable and I believe that this can be worked out to the mutual benefit to both countries especially now that we have reciprocal visa free entry.

“Like many other new routes to other parts of the world, it may be a good thing like the Nadi-Los Angeles service that we share the development of the route to a code share arrangement with an approved carrier from China.”

He said this will mean that both countries will be promoting the route.

“This will enhance the success of such a service and I guess that it is up to the national carrier, Fiji Airways, and Government to decide which points that this services will involve.”

 Mr Seeto referred to some of the main ports in China – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

 “All that needs to be worked out before a viable commercial service can be made.”

Permanent Secretary for Civil Aviation and Solicitor-General, Sharvada Sharma, called for a more cautious approach.

During the recent Attorney-General’s Conference he had said: “For Fiji and for our economy which is largely dependent on tourism, numerous economic analysis show that there is really no sustainable long-term economic benefits to liberalising ASAs for the sake of liberalisation alone. This would not only harm our economy in the long-run, but will also cause immense survival concerns for our national carrier.”

He made it clear that while the Fijian Government supported the creation of new air links and markets to Fiji, it would not do so at the risk of its current markets.  In the long run, this included the risk of undermining Fiji’s economy, Fiji’s national carrier and our connectivity to the world.

Fiji Airways chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director, Andre Viljoen had also issued a similar warning.

He cautioned Government about opening up the skies and its implications on the national airline.

Fiji has 28 bilateral ASAs and currently only 10 carriers are using their rights to fly to and from Fiji.

“They are not fully utilising all their rights in terms of capacity and access points. In this respect, Fiji is currently negotiating with other nations to expand our commercial aviation sector,” he had said.

Open Skies is a policy for full liberalisation of international air services where unlimited access to all destinations and routes for a particular country is allowed. This often includes no restrictions on intermediate and beyond traffic.

With these complex issues, it may take longer than anticipated to see something concrete come out of a China-Fiji direct flight route.

It is a fact, Chinese tourists are big spenders. Recent reports have also shown that despite slower economic growth in China, Chinese tourists visiting foreign destinations continue to rise.

Australia and New Zealand have taken the lead in grabbing these tourism dollars – for the Southern Hemisphere at least. This has only been consolidated with their respective Free Trade Agreements.

Fiji on the other hand has yet to sign one. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there are conditions to be met.

 For the time being, Rosie Holidays is paving the way for Fiji in China after running successful charter services this year. More are expected in the new year.

For now, we will relish in the increasing number of Chinese visitors visiting our shores.

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