$12.8 Million Runway For Rotuma Opened

Fiji Link’s ATR 72-600 at the new Rotuma Runway opening in Malhaha, Rotuma, October 29, 2018. Photo: DEPTFO News

The new Fiji Link ATR turboprop service to Rotuma, which is ex­pected to begin this week, will open doors that will forever change the face of this beautiful island.

It will forever enrich the lives of the many Fijian families who call it their home.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama made the comments after opening the new $12.8 million 1,400 metres chip-sealed pave­ment runway for Fiji Air­ports at Malhaha in Rotu­ma yesterday.

The occasion also marked the historic inaugural Fiji Link ATR 72-600 flight that is expected to carry between 60-70 passengers each trip as opposed to sev­en on the smaller aircraft previously.

Mr Bainimarama, said an­yone who used the Rotuma Airport before today knew too well the many head­aches that it once caused.

“The previous runway, put in place back in the 1980s, was just a grass strip, much of which was unusable due to terrible drainage.

“Its operation was ex­tremely limited, both in what type of aircraft it could facilitate and in the weather conditions in which take-offs and land­ings were possible

“Flights were delayed and cancelled after just a driz­zling of rain frustrated the few travellers who were able to book tickets on the small, seven-seater Twin Otter aircraft.

“Far too many times, after excitedly planning their journeys, packing their bags and coming to the air­port, Rotumans were sent home disappointed.”

Connectivity

He said there were weeks that went by without a sin­gle departure but once the weather cleared, the flight time was over two-and-a-half hours long.

“For decades, past govern­ments saw the need for an upgrade, but neglected de­veloping the airport.

“They saw no business case for an expanded run­way in Rotuma, and despite being planned out and de­signed many times over the past 40 years, it was shelved every time.

“The difficulty of the project, and the isolation of Rotuma from the main­land, made this a task too grand and too ambitious for them to undertake.

“Just like with the new, award-winning Nadi In­ternational Airport, or the soon-to-be-upgraded air­port in Nausori, the politi­cal opposition proved to be nothing more than doubt­ers and detractors, drag­ging their feet and claim­ing that these tasks were simply impossible.”

Mr Bainimarama said this new runway had prov­en them wrong.

“That mentality –– that timid lack of visionary leadership ––has finally been shed with my Govern­ment.

“Time and again, we have proven that we never balk at boldness, and this pro­ject was no different.

“For me, this was much more than a simple case of whether or not the airport would be profitable from ticket sales alone –– that’s a narrow-minded vision that doesn’t fully take you, the Rotumans who will benefit, into consideration.

“My fellow Fijians, to my Government, this was about so much more than just paving a new runway –– it was about paving a new future of connectivity for every Rotuman man, woman and child.

“It was about giving the thousands of Rotumans who have gone on to live elsewhere in Fiji and the world a chance to visit their families, and see their home, with unprec­edented ease.

“It was about making Ro­tuma feel more connected to the rest of Fiji than at any point in our nation’s history. It was about bring­ing a new tide of economic activity that will allow you to take part in the ongoing economic prosperity that we are experiencing all throughout Fiji.”

The runway is now both wider and longer.

The upgrades include the site’s drainage, upgrad­ing of the apron to accommodate two ATRs, new secu­rity fencing and en­hanced the runway end safety area.

A new fire station was also being built, with a new fire truck for the air­port, and obstacles around the airfield have been cleared to allow for safe air­craft operation.

“This is far more than just a facelift –– it is a comprehensive overhaul that amounts to a far safer and more efficient airport.”

Domino effect

He said the airport pro­ject, completed in just over a year by Fiji Airports, would have a domino effect that would revolutionise the entire travel experi­ence to Rotuma and then spread to boost the island’s economy as a result.

“With the ability to cater to larger, more powerful planes, the time in the air will now be drastically re­duced.”

The Fiji Link flight from Nadi to Rotuma now takes 90 minutes in comparison to the Twin Otter’s two and a half hours.

“The capacity of the new FijiLink ATRs is a six-fold increase of the previous puddle-jumpers –– over 40 passengers will be able to take advantage of each of these new flights, making booking tickets both easier and more affordable for Ro­tumans and tourists alike.”

He said this increase in passenger arrivals had the potential to open the floo­gates for trade and tourism dollars for Rotuma more than ever before.

“It’s safe to say that the ef­fects that this will have on the island’s development will prove remarkable for years to come.

“I look forward to watch­ing Rotumans flourish as they take full advantage of this new chapter in your is­land’s history.”

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