Coronavirus could cripple Solomon airlines’ only viable overseas route

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By Alfred Sasako

MEASURES being taken by the Australian Government to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus could potentially cripple Solomon Airlines, officials warned on Tuesday 17th March.

The warning comes as airlines across the region take steps to respond to new government restrictions in their countries. Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa have all announced scaling back their international flights.

In Australia, the nation’s national carrier, Qantas has announced a 90 per cent cutback on its international flights, resulting in the grounding of 150 aircraft including most of its wide-body fleet.

The announcement which was made to the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) has potentially put thousands of the airline’s jobs on the line. Qantas employs some 30, 000 workers.

Another carrier, Virgin Atlantic has reportedly asked its workers to take six weeks leave.

These measures were taken in response to new measures announced by Canberra on Monday in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. In travel advisory issued on Monday all Australians returning to Australia face a 14-day self-imposed isolation.

Failure to do so attracts an AUD11, 000 fine, six months in prison or both.

Government officials told a news conference in Honiara on Tuesday 17th March they would be seeking advice from Canberra on the new measures, which they described as “steep.”

Asked what impact if any this would have on the tourism sector, given that Australian tourists made up the largest number of visitors to Solomon Islands, they said this would severely affect the national carrier.

“Every other airline in the region are reviewing their flights in the light of the coronavirus, particularly in response to new measures announced by their governments. I guess Solomon Airlines might have to do the same,” Secretary to the Prime Minister (SPM), Jimmy Rodgers said yesterday.

Solomon Airlines has already closed down its weekly Brisbane-Munda service because of law passenger numbers.

Secretary of the Solomon Airlines Board, Bill Tyson, told Island Sun earlier this week the airline would be flying its normal Honiara-Brisbane-Honiara service, adding the Airline Management would be closely watching the threat and impact of the coronavirus.

A seasoned traveler told Island Sun on Tuesday 17th March he does not believe that with the depleting passenger number from Australia, Solomon Airlines would be staying in the air for much longer.