The gateway to the superb diving available in the western region of the Solomon Islands, Munda, is about to get a big boost with the opening of its international airport. Munda is about an hour and a half flight from Honiara, the capital.
Direct flights between Brisbane and Munda are understood to be commencing within a few months, but the New Zealand High Commission in Honiara is tight lipped over the precise timing. In response to a request for details a spokesperson said only that there will be an official announcement in due course, and that the specific timing and details of this are still in discussion.
Last year aid funding to the Solomon Islands from New Zealand was $NZ24.1 million. The airport upgrade to international status is understood to have exceeded $NZ30 million over several years, and consisted for example, of runway lighting, perimeter security, communications, fire services and training.
On its website the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says “New Zealand is the lead donor in sup¬porting critical avi¬ation infrastructure projects and aviation reform to unlock Solomon Islands tourism potential and create conditions for economic growth.”
“The benefits of these upgrades include: increased passenger movements domestically and internationally to Western Province, increased tourism, improved safety for larger aircraft, opportunities to expand air services at Munda Airport to international flights, increased aviation freight capacity, reduced aviation fuel loads, and increased government revenue from the aviation sector.”
Diving in the Solomons is a prime attraction with high visibility, many coral reefs and numerous shipwrecks and planes from the war to explore.
In fact the Munda airfield was originally cleared by the Japanese during WWII but the Americans quickly took it from them to complete the job. Since then it has operated as a regional field, lately with several daily flights from Honiara.
New Zealand has been involved with Solomon Islands development particularly since the success of the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which concluded in June 2017 and is implemented through the New Zealand Police.
Other projects being funded by New Zealand there include making renewable energy more available, and strengthening their capacity to sustainably develop and manage fisheries.
Support also focuses on increasing the capability of primary level teaching, and providing tertiary scholarships and vocational training opportunities. www.mfat.govt.nz/en/aid-and-development/scholarships/