Issue No. 05/2021 – Tuesday, 26 January 2021 (Kitiona Tausi)
Government has begun the process for the implementation of the reintroduction of the domestic air-service, after the approval of the 2021 National Budget by Parliament in its last Parliament session (14-28 December 2020). This week Government has completed the first activity in the process which was the consultation with people on the outer islands regarding their acceptance of the project and especially the construction of airfields on their islands.
A team led by the Ministry of Transport, Energy and Tourism was involved in this activity and it reported after its consultation with all the islands that all islands did concede to the construction of airfields. Some islands have already accepted the idea of the airfield but the land issue is yet to be finalized and they will make a final decision towards the end of this month. Some islands have also accepted the land as proposed by Government.
The domestic air-service team that visited the islands comprised of Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Energy and Tourism, Mrs. Silati Filiake, civil engineers from PWD, representatives from the Land and Survey Department including Members of Parliament from the Island of Nanumea, Hon Amupelosa Tehulu, (Minister of Works, Infrastructure, Environment, Labor, Meteorology and Disaster) Hon Timi Melei, (Minister of Education, Youth and Sports) and Member of Parliament from Vaitupu, (Minister of Transport, Energy and Tourism), Hon Nielu Meisake.
In an interview with Radio Tuvalu, Mrs. Filiake said the team had consultations with people on the islands especially the Falekaupule and Kaupule. On Nanumea, the people agreed to use the old airfield constructed in the time of the World War II by the American Marines, to clear for the proposed airfield saying the ground is still compact and it only needs the uprooting of trees that have grown in the area.
Mrs. Filiake said, the process is on track saying that consultation works had been completed in all islands. In February, another team will visit the islands and this team will comprise of officers from the Land and Survey Department, PWD and this team will work on the lease of the land and to be signed and also to pay tree compensation to the landowners.
A special committee will be established on each island and this committee will be responsible for the counting of trees in lands that are leased for the airfield and this lease will be compensated under the Urban Commercial category at the annual rate of $7,500.
By March, heavy machineries will arrive and there will be 2 sets of machineries, meaning that two airfields will be constructed at a time. Actual construction works of the airfields will be from April to July 2021. So if everything goes as planned, the domestic air-service will be operational by August 2021.
Mrs. Filiake also gave an update of the current status of the project saying the twin-otter aircraft for the service is now being built by a manufacturing company in Canada and is expected to be completed by May 2021. The project’s taskforce is now working on the recruitment of personnel like pilots, engineers and etc.
The Taskforce is comprised of government officers from ministries who have a linkage to the project including the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Transport, Energy and Tourism, Mr. Avafoa Irata and Assistant Secretary, Mrs. Silati Filiake and jointly chaired by the Ministry of Transport, Energy and Tourism, Hon Nielu Meisake and Minister of Finance, Hon Seve Paeniu.
Mrs. Filiake explained that a budget of $13 million has been approved for the project and include costs for the clearance of the land, management of terminals, labor costs and the procurement of heavy machineries. Everything is now ready and in order except the work to begin on airfields.
She also explained that the domestic air-service will offer great benefits to the people of Tuvalu especially on the outer islands in terms of tourism, trade, business, travel and etc.
The airfield is about 900 meters long and 60 meters wide and can be extended to 1.2km long and 800 – 900 m wide.