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From Fiji Times Online (21 April 2013)

Letters to the Editor:

Rotuma air services

I READ somewhere on the web the wonderful slogan for our domestic airline Pacific Sun 'Best value under the Sun'.

Pacific Sun management and bosses are urged to treat their patrons and the islanders of Rotuma with more dignity and be more responsible and more sympathetic in the caring manner you run your air services from Fiji to Rotuma.

On Friday April 19, 2013, at least 12 passengers left their homes as early as 12.30am from Suva and made confirmed holiday plans from as far as Hawaii to visit their exotic, incomparable island paradise.

A traditional island welcome was organised on the island to welcome the arrival of a new member of a family.

A lot of preparation went into welcoming a kainaga who now makes his return to the island after 30 long years. Not far behind was a father who excitedly looked forward to meeting up with his daughter and niece with friends from Fiji.

And he is going back after 28 years since his school days. A group of five were greatly anticipated by their friends and brothers in Rotuma.

One should have been at the Nadi International Airport to see the smiling beaming faces braving the cool morning, happily queued up among the group with baggages prepared with much love and care for their island kinsfolk.

And then we got the best value under the sun. Of the 12 but maybe more passengers (too dejected to count) that turned up and had called Pacific Sun a day earlier and were confirmed booked to fly were shot by the sacrificial lamb behind the counter when they said they would only take four passengers.

Months of preparation and anticipation, fares paid at least two months in advance of $632 one way at least Pacific Sun got the best value on bank interests under the sun.

We urge Pacific Sun please, to do justice to your air services to Rotuma.

With the many economic investments going into Rotuma, you need to allow a wider neck for your bottle. Investors and peoples' time is important and patrons plan their holidays and events months and months well in advance.

Help the island grow its economy and have in place a regular, reliable and trustworthy service.

Should a flight get cancelled because of bad weather or over booked cargo, can you consider running a supplementary flight for people as soon as possible if not on the same day?

The people of Rotuma support Pacific Sun well by putting up with airfares that can take them two return trips to overseas destinations.

One of our nieces travelled to Rotuma three weeks ago and the same incident was experienced at the Nadi International Airport. She was called three times to go to the airport with three cancellations. We understand this is an ongoing problem with Pacific Sun and their flight to Rotuma. We too want the 'Best value under the sun' for Rotuma air service.

Allen Lockington

I read with interest your online article in the Fiji Times Online (April 21st)
regarding the air services to Rotuma. I can empathise with your sentiments in the
article. I live in Melbourne, Australia and have a close friend "stuck" on Rotuma
who can't get back to Nadi. He fly from Melbourne, Australia to Rotuma via Nadi
on April 11 /12 to spend a week with his Dad whom he hadn't seen in 20 years. He
was booked on the Rotuma to Nadi flight on April 19th. After turning up at
Rotuma Airport at the designated time, he was told the flight from Nadi to Rotuma
was cancelled due to bad weather. Pacific Sun told the passengers who were to be
on the flight that they would reschedule the flight on Monday or Tuesday the
following week. After numerous attempts at contacting myself in Australia, he
finally got thru and relayed this information to me. I then had to inform his wider
family and his manager at work that he wouldn't be at work on Monday. Monday
and Tuesday came and went and there was still no flight back to Nadi. There is
very little information on Rotuma so he would report to the airport each morning
hoping there would be a flight that day, with no luck. Well Friday April 26th has
just begun and again, the flight from Rotuma to Nadi is cancelled. That's a whole
week he hasn't been at work and a whole week of being somewhere he shouldn't
be, not to mention the chaos and interrupted schedules his family, friends and work
colleagues need to deal with in his absence in Australia. It now maybe another
week before he's home. To make it worse, he is sick - in need of antibiotics, tired
and stressed. He will likely need hospitalisation when he gets back to Australia -
both for his physical health and mental health. Someone on Rotuma made the
comment - why would you want to leave paradise? For him it's nowhere near
paradise - the island is fast running out of supplies - water, food, cash, medical
supplies, fuel and there's no access to the internet, limited phone access and no tv
or radio. Pacific Sun need to find a way to get people from Nadi to Rotuma and
vice versa ASAP.

Like you said in your article - Pacific Sun need to greatly improve their air services
to Rotuma and start treating their passengers with a bit more respect with better
communication and planning for these events.

Lynette Churchill

Letter to the Editor, Fiji Sun Online (24 April 2013)

I would like to respond in support of Allen Lockington's letter on Sunday, April 21, 2013
regarding Pacific Sun's services to Rotuma.

I am an Australian citizen living with my Rotuman husband and family in Rotuma for the
past 10 months. As a foreigner I understand there are cultural differences one needs to
adapt to when living in a foreign country but when it comes to dealing with an
established business one expects to receive the service they're paying for.
The amount of times flights to Rotuma have been cancelled, delayed, rescheduled (or
not!) is unlike anything I've ever experienced. The amount of hours I have spent on the
phone with Pacific Sun representatives trying to clarify what is going on with cancelled
flights, wanting to book flights for relatives coming from Australia and being told the
flights are full, then finding out there were only 2-4 passengers on the arriving flight for
that date. Passengers being removed from flights for no satisfying reason, or being
removed from a flight for being "too heavy".

In one particular incident, a friend from Australia was coming to visit us in Rotuma for
one week. She had planned and paid for this short trip months in advance, knowing that
her work schedule could only allow her one week stay considering there was only one
flight a week to Rotuma. She arrived in Nadi (after a Red eye flight from Brisbane) on
the Friday morning to get the 7am flight to Rotuma, and was told the flight was
cancelled "Due to weather conditions". She had to pay for her own accommodation in
Nadi while waiting for the flight to be rescheduled. She (and myself) had to continuously
chase Pacific Sun for details on when the flight will be leaving, as no one from the
company bothered to update her with what is going on.

Nadine Waldbaum

I walked past the domestic check-in counters after checking in for my 8.45 am flight back to Auckland when I saw written on a board ' Flight to Rotuma 6.45 am'

I thought I could quickly buy some chocolates or some stuff for the kids back home so I
asked the Rotuman lass and the Indian guy behind the counter if it was possible. I was
told that I had only two minutes. Seeing that it would take me more than two minutes to
run back from the duty free shops on the other side of the terminal with the stuff I
decided against it.

Both agreed that it would be too late.

Back home in Auckland I rang Rotuma to tell mum I have arrived safely and to also tell
them not to send the stuff they were supposed to send on the plane as I am already back
in Auckland.

To my surprise I was told that there was no plane on that day as the flight was cancelled. I
wonder if was it cancelled while in the air, because I was told that the plane taxiing on the
runway was bound for Rotuma.

I now understand why Rotuma passengers spend money on expensive transport to the
airport only to return home in frustration due to cancelled flights!

This has been a regular occurrence and it makes one wonder if it is pure incompetence or
arrogance or both on the airlines part though I suspect more so on the employees

I hear of a new airline to service outlining islands like Rotuma. I say bring it on! Rotuma
needs better treatment than what they are experiencing.

If I may suggest, couldn't the service be run like international flights whereby you book,
you pay, you fly and not you book, you pay, someone else flies as is the case happening
in Rotuma!

TF Katafono

Pacific Sun will have a lot to answer for their irregular air services to Rotuma.

Firstly, if there is a government subsidy available for the airline to access when payloads are below break even costs to run the aircraft, then the airline should run the regular service barring genuine weather concerns and mechanical and/or technical problems to the aircraft. Unfortunately being the only domestic service provider the airline will be inclined to service routes that are profitable. These are routes servicing the tourist belt in the west and other short haul services within Fiji.

Secondly, I am amazed that the airline can book and confirm 12 passengers on a twin Otter to Rotuma, especially as I understand Rotuma does not have facilities to refuel the aircraft. Where I currently work in PNG we have a weekly charter service on a twin Otter aircraft (same type of aircraft servicing Rotuma) for a 1 hour and 50 minutes flight and the most the aircraft can carry is 2 pilots and 8 passengers with limited cargo. This is due to weight restrictions such that the aircraft must have sufficient fuel to return to its departure destination in case of unfavourable weather conditions enroute and at the arrival destination. The airline would be irresponsible knowing that they cannot carry 12 passengers in any one sector and to accept paid fares for months in advance from prospective travellers.

Previous inquiries with Pacific Sun reveal a special charter will cost approximately $20,000FJD return trip with passenger numbers in the range of four to six each way plus freight. For normal air service to Rotuma a fare of $650 each way is not profitable given that a charter rate is set at $20,000FJD return trip. Even when weather conditions are suitable for the aircraft to operate strong head winds may limit the carrying capacity of the aircraft to as low as four passengers each way; this may explain the withdrawal of services to Rotuma at very short notice due to weather or mechanical breakdowns. For a charter service the charge would have to be $1600 per person for a maximum of 12 people on the return sector to recover the cost of the charter.

Our prospective politicians and leaders of Rotuma need to lobby the government to find ways to upgrade the airstrip in Rotuma so bigger aircraft can service the island without limiting the number of passengers the aircraft can carry. Whilst this service can be weekly or fortnightly it will guarantee the airline a profit and travellers would be happy.

PNG is a country solely dependent on air and sea transport to service the entire country and I must say you have not seen the chaos when air services are withdrawn at short notice. The current airfare to and from Rotuma, and the type of aircraft being used on the route, makes you wonder how long before Pacific Sun withdraws the service or worse still, that the status quo remains, with cancelled flights at short notice and disgruntled passengers each time a flight is scheduled for Rotuma.

Fuata Jione
Papua New Guinea

DISAPPOINTMENT, sadness and frustration are few of the words we use to
describe the recent experience we had with the Air Pacific/ Pacific Sun
flight bound for Rotuma (Friday April 26) which again did not occur.

This was our first visit to Rotuma to see family and we were travelling
from New Zealand with our 81-year-old uncle.

We arrived at Nadi airport at 5am (for a 7am flight) to a sign stating
"Flight to Rotuma Island cancelled".

We queried the attendee but he didn't know the reason for the
cancellation nor when the next flight was. We were told that his
supervisor would answer our queries but the supervisor didn't know and
we were told that his manager would know.

We waited for over four hours before the reason, "bad weather", was given
but no one knew when the next flight to Rotuma would be.

Other passengers to Rotuma said they were from the previous Friday
flight which was cancelled and rescheduled for Thursday (the day before
our flight). Both were cancelled due to "bad weather". There was a backlog
of passengers in Nadi and Rotuma who had booked and paid but weren't
able to reach their destination.

The cancellation of our flight meant we would be stranded in Nadi for the
next two weeks. We asked for accommodation and meal compensation
but were told that because of "bad weather" Air Pacific would not pay for

We asked if there was anything they could do to at least support our
elderly uncle while we organised alternative arrangements. They said they
just couldn't help, not even coffee or water for our elderly uncle who had
been waiting since 5am.

This was a gut-wrenching and bitterly disappointing event as our family
in Rotuma had also hired vans and preparing for our mamasa, purchasing
food and preparing accommodation.

A significant amount of money, time and emotion was invested into this
trip. We were looking forward to meeting family for the first time, reunion
of elderly siblings and the joy of experiencing our Rotuma heritage, but
now we cannot experience this because of the unpredictable and
unreliable service to Rotuma.

We have travelled to over 27 different countries and this has been our
worst experience.

The service to Rotuma is utterly unreliable. We couldn't even plan for a
rescheduled flight as no one knew when that flight would be. And we
didn't want to take the chance of getting stuck in Rotuma and missing
our connecting flight back to New Zealand for work.

Rotumans contribute significantly to the economic development of Fiji
yet I feel we are second-class citizens when it comes to flights to

We pay premium fares over $1200 per person return for an unreliable
service. Rotuma deserves better service and so does all your paying
passengers, overseas and local.

F and L Stowers
New Zealand

The probable explanation for cancelled services to Rotuma is the cost to operate that service.

If there is no government subsidy then one will expect the operator to constantly cancel services when payloads are below profitable margins and the weather and technical excuses will be given. The problem airlines face to operate the service to Rotuma is due mainly to CAA regulations that requires the aircraft to carry sufficient fuel for the return trip and for any emergency that requires the aircraft to be in the air. My experience in PNG where we use the twin otter aircraft the same type that service Rotuma is that the number of passengers per leg is limited to 8. At ($680fjd) each way the airline will not break even to run at half that maximum number both ways. If there is no government subsidy than you will expect the operator to cancel services when it looks like it will run at a loss. That is fact unless you can afford to charter the aircraft for a return trip to Rotuma for around $20,000fjd. Even still the airline will tell you they can only carry maximum payload allowed by CAA which depends on weather and other factors. Make it worse your charter may only be for four passengers with some cargo both ways to Rotuma.

When the cancellation is due to weather or technical problems if it be the case the poor passenger will have no recourse for compensation other than a full refund of the airfare.

It may pay for our council and potential future politicians to lobby government to fix the runway in Rotuma so the ATR 42 can service Rotuma to ease the cost of flying and at least some much needed cargo freighting to the island. If a government subsidy is available for the airline than the operator should honour and service the route to Rotuma. I do not think the weather is an issue to prevent service to Rotuma for weeks or even months.

The most reliable service that Rotuma needs is a multipurpose vessel that can get to Rotuma from Lautoka within 24-30hrs with a capability to utilise wind propulsion to reduce the cost of fuel. This will require the Council of Rotuma, the communities abroad and the expertise of various people to set up a workable business venture.

From Fuata Jione Gulf of Papua PNG

It is with great disappointment to be travelling to the island on a small plane paying big money. Well, we have ourselves to blame because our leaders do not see the reality so we all get penalised. We have the option of getting Northern Airline to service our route but again our leaders are asleep. Wake up and look around you there is so much to fix. We need to vacate the council and allow them to only represent the village and an educated team to lead us now.

From Michael Crocker