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.”
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.”
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.”