LONDON – A leaked MOU (Memorium of Understanding) in 2019 shows China’s ambitious aviation plan in the tiny pacific island nation.
China has been exerting its influence worldwide, focusing especially on the developing world.
The MOU signed 2 years ago uncovers the potential partners from the Solomon Islands Government to have its flag carrier Solomon Airlines undergo a fleet revamp program with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
The MOU was signed by Peter Shanel Agovaka, Solomon Islands minister of communication and aviation, and Zhang Yong, Xian Aircraft’s chief customer officer of AVIC.
The MOU states that the government planned to purchase three Xian Aircraft MA600 aircraft and three Harbin Y12 aircraft for the country’s flag carrier. Xian Aircraft and Harbin Aircraft are both under the Chinese state-owned AVIC.
These two influential individuals say:
“Within the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and this MOU, Solomon Islands wishes to become an aeronautical hub in the Western Pacific; Solomon wishes to strengthen its existing domestic aerodrome infrastructure and upgrade its current national airline fleet.
“Solomon wishes to be part of the regional airline concept where Honaira would receive direct flights from China and become a regional hub. For this vision, Solomon needs to acquire new planes, such as MA600/MA700 and Y-12 aircraft, and refurbish airfields.
“Solomon Islands wishes to simultaneously upgrade airfields in order to accommodate the new MA600/MA700 aircraft, carry out necessary validation certification between CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) and CAASI (Civil Aviation Authority of Solomon Islands), and Party B to support Party A for capacity building initiatives.”
The MOU also reveals the upgrading of 36 airfields on the Island, which will enable direct flights to China. These upgrades can accommodate the MA600 aircraft.
The upgrade would be carried out in two phases, 15 in phase one and 20 in the last.
The MOU has raised concerns over China’s geopolitical move, especially from Australia and New Zealand.
According to the ABC report, an Australian broadcasting company stated that the CEO of Solomon Airlines wasn’t in the loop regarding the secretive MOU agreements, and the plans to use Chinese capital to revamp Solomon’s aviation infrastructure.
CEO Brett Gebers stated that:
“I was half-heartedly invited to accompany a group of MPs to China around this time in 2019, but nothing ever came of it,” he said. “There was mention of looking at airplanes.”
Solomon Island’s main airport, Honiara International Airport (HIR) is only equipped with a 2,200 meters runway, which restricts operations to only the narrow-body jets like the A320, which Solomon Airlines has one on lease.
The airline flies twice a week to Brisbane Airport. Whilst the other foreign carrier serving the island is Air Niugini.
The MOU deal is purely a political move by Solomon Island’s government to gain an easier capital influx from the Chinese state. But, the deal could be said to be a pragmatic move as the country’s basic infrastructure needs much of an upgrade.