Caption: General Secretary of the Association of South Pacific Airlines (“ASPA”), George Faktaufon.Photo:SUPPLIED.

The Fijian Government is dismayed by the unprofessional comments made by the General Secretary of the Association of South Pacific Airlines (“ASPA”), George Faktaufon, in the wake of the successful resolution of the recent air services dispute between Solomon Islands and Fiji.

In those comments, Faktaufon appears to blame Fiji for the impasse between the two countries in direct contravention of the facts of the dispute. He appears to have a very poor understanding of Air Services Agreements (“ASA”) and indeed the proper role of ASPA in regional aviation.

ASPA exists to promote the interests of all national carriers and should be non-partisan and objective in its pronouncements. Instead, Faktaufon has shown partiality and displayed a bias that is both unprofessional and improper.

This lack of professionalism is further demonstrated in the comments made in an email today by Faktaufon about the Managing Director of Fiji Airways, Mr. Stefan Pichler, in which he said ASPA would quote: “not bow down to foreigners”. This gratuitous reference to the head of Fiji’s national airline smacks of a parochialism that is deeply offensive. This is especially so when Faktaufon knows that aviation is a global industry and its personnel operate across regions and across borders.

It is highly unusual for a multilateral organisation such as ASPA and its General Secretary to be taking a partisan position. Indeed, at no stage did Faktaufon or ASPA call the Fijian authorities to ascertain the correct position before making such a statement. As the General Secretary of an association made up of airlines, surely Faktaufon should know that ASAs are agreements negotiated and entered between sovereign States and not airline companies.

As sovereign States, the Solomon Islands and Fiji have amicably resolved their dispute and it is not for ASPA or its General Secretary to interfere. But in the interests of setting the record straight, the Fijian Government wishes to place the following facts on the public record.

This dispute arose when Solomon Islands refused Fiji Airways permission to operate a second weekly flight to Solomon Islands. This was in clear breach of the ASA which gives Fiji Airways the right to operate a total of 3 flights per week to Honiara without the need for further approvals.

Fiji and Solomon Islands, as sovereign States, voluntarily entered into an ASA, and Solomon Islands has also granted 5th freedom rights to Fiji for the flights via Port Villa. This agreement is clear and unambiguous. And while there was disagreement about its terms on the Solomons side, the dispute was resolved amicably this week, as is reflected in the Joint Communique signed by both countries.

It is not for Faktaufon and ASPA to dictate the terms of any agreement and the Fijian Government takes great exception to any suggestion otherwise. Fiji takes its obligations under the ASA, as with other international obligations, very seriously and has fully complied with these obligations. At the same time, Fiji expects that those countries which sign ASAs with Fiji will also comply with their obligations. If they fail to do so, Fiji has a clear sovereign right to assert the terms of those agreements and ASPA and its General Secretary have no right whatsoever to interfere.

By doing so, Faktaufon and ASPA are clearly trying to undermine the successful resolution of the dispute between Fiji and Solomon Islands that was reached in good faith this week with the input and assistance by the Solomon Islands Government and its Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade & Minister responsible for Aviation, Honourable Mr. Milner Tozaka.



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