Choiseul Province requests action on SolAir ‘U-turn’ incident

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BY BARNABAS MANEBONA & ALFRED PAGEPITU

CHOISEUL province has demanded Solomon Airlines to seriously deal with the ‘U-turn incident’ at Taro Airfield and remove the foreign pilot who was responsible for the incident.

This is before any more serious incident may occur in the future that will involve people’s lives seeing that the dubbed ‘Smoking Pilot’ continues to be involved in serious incidents of the airlines being reported by the media.

The Premier of Choiseul Province Hon Watson Qoloni speaking to Island Sun strongly condemned the incident concerning the action of the landing that occurred on August 14 after receiving information of the way SolAir’s Twin Otter had landed.

It had risked the lives of passengers, onlookers from the airfield building area plus nearby infrastructures of residents and other buildings as well.

Premier Hon Qoloni strongly reminds that the only reliable transport in Choiseul Province is through plane.

“And one can experience from observation that flights to our province are usually fully booked. So the safety of our people is important.

“We expect to have a good and enjoyable journey when provided with such service so pilots must always remember to abide to flight rules,” said Hon Qoloni.

According to a firsthand eye witnesses on the incident when looking on from the Taro airfield building who happen to be also the current Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) for Choiseul Bay Ward where Taro Airfield is located, Hon Josiah Vanabach, since the plane went on to land, what first caught their attention was the plane was travelling too fast for landing being seen for the first time for such speed landing compared to usual past landings and how planes should be landed with their speed from understanding.

On second that caught everyone’s attention was the sound of the engine. The MPA said it sounded in a dreadful way giving thought to those waiting for their flight that it could be a different plane travelling in from overseas to land.

Third, instead of landing against the wind from the western end of the airfield, the Twin Otter went landing from the North-eastern direction flowing along with the wind giving evidence the direction the airlines cloth was blowing for.

“It was a bit slippery that morning as the incident occurred during midday. When the plane came in to land, the way it flew in looked careless and terrifying which all of us standing at the airfield building started to suggest running away from where we were standing because it might crashed onto us.

“The plane came skiing in turning into a u-turn re-facing the airfield in a halt with its back facing the Taro airfield Office building before the pilots slowly turned the plane around again to be in the appropriate position it should had been at from landing,” said Hon Josiah.

“Not until the Twin Otter turned around before members of the public saw who the Pilots were and started commenting on the foreign pilot recognised as the ‘Smoking Pilot’ dubbed on media.”

“From my point of view, this might be the second incident at Taro airfield after a first one by a Gilbertese if I am correct but this is the most terrifying landing so far experienced. The first incident mentioned was not serious as this.

“The plane swayed when landing nearly having its other wing scrapping on the airfield being just centimetres away. Had not the pilot quickly turned the plane when it was in a u-turn position, there was the possibility that it could had just blown over in a capsized position scenario adding on the force of the wind flowing along with it.”

When queried on the matter, Solomon Airlines CEO Brett Gebers on Saturday said, “The incident referred to has been fully documented and is being investigated by the Airline’s Safety Department.

“No fault is attributable to the crew who were suddenly faced with a very difficult situation which they dealt with perfectly.

“The combination of a mechanical fault and a very wet and slippery runway led to the incident. I am thankful that we had a very experienced Captain flying the aircraft as his skill and experience ensured a safe outcome.”

However according to Hon Josiah from observation, ever since the incident occurred there has not been any Team of such from SolAir’s Safety Department that might have gone down to Taro to check on the incident or even make any sort of awareness for the people there on what was the cause of the incident adding assurance that flights are now safe because people of the province are yet still in wonder and shock.

“Solomon Airlines should seriously look into this issue as such landing is seen for the first time, something not seen from local pilots during the past. There should be investigation on the foreign pilot having being involved too in many incidents even if the recent one has to do with mechanical problems. Why would such landing occur? The landing was under the leadership role of the Captain.”

“The incident that took place is very serious and as an MP of this Ward where Taro Airfield is located on, I urge Solomon Airlines Management to follow up on it and deal with where ever necessary to avoid such issues that deals with human lives,” stressed Hon Josiah.

It is understood from Island Sun’s branch-Office in Gizo through Western Province Provincial Secretary (PS) Mr Jeffery Wickham that the Western Provincial Government on behalf of the province is also concerned over this recent incident sharing same sentiment with Choiseul Province that it is their province too that usually has many bookings for flights.

They suggest that it is time to make use of the country’s local pilots and newly graduates as local pilots still have a good reputation of flying around at their side (Choiseul and Western Provinces) of the country. The suggestion comes after seeing that the recent incident at Taro had involved too the same dubbed ‘Smoking Pilot’ stating that such pilot should had already been sacked in the first place over the incident of smoking in a plane’s cockpit that is forbidden by the country’s aviation laws.

Western Province question why the very same foreign pilot is still yet flying around in the country when such attitudes and behaviour shown might also influence local pilots wrongly.

A concerned local citizen Mr Charles Herbert over this issue also shared his view against the ‘Smoking Pilot’s’ role now becoming famous stating “If the ‘Smoking Pilot’ comes from a developed country of standard rules in their aviation system then such involvements in recent incidents does not clearly reflect where he comes from which might mean that he might be someone just of lower ranking in the aviation industry there being handpicked from Australia’s outback. He suggests for responsible authorities to seriously investigate on this as well.

SolAir’s Taro Office has not been responsive in answering calls through recent days for further investigation as it is understood SolAir has now also chosen to remain silent over this issue.

Querying over the issue on to the Civil Aviation Authority of Solomon Islands (CAASI) Acting Director Brian Halisanau was also not possible having waiting for response now three days.

It is urged that the National Government must also seriously look into this issue taking it into consideration for the sake of Solomon Islanders lives and, in order to enjoy a good airlines service in the country.

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