Plans appear to have stalled for Chinese aerospace and defense conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) to upgrade dozens of airstrips in the Solomon Islands to transform the Pacific Island country into a a regional hub, reports ABC News in Australia.
In return, the Solomon Islands government would purchase six aircraft from AVIC’s commercial aircraft division, according to a leaked memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2019. AVIC is a major manufacturer of civilian aircraft in China, including the MA-600 and the upcoming MA. -700.
Implementation of the MoU appears to be stalled due to COVID-19. Solomons – Solomon Airlines chief executive Brett Gebers told ABC News he was unaware of the deal. Currently, the airline’s fleet consists of one A320-200 leased from Carlyle Aviation Partners and four in-house turboprops used on domestic routes, including three DHC-6-300s and one DHC-8-100, the advanced ch-aviation fleets module reveals.
The MoU indicates Solomon Islands’ intention to transform its capital Honiara into a regional hub with direct flights to/from China. “For this vision, [the] Solomon [Islands] need to acquire new aircraft, such as the MA60/MA700 and Y12 aircraft, and renovate airfields,” it reads. The sale “would depend on the continuation of negotiations on the price and the favorable conditions”. It would require “final board approval.” [the] Solomon Islands and the Government of [the] Solomon Islands.” For its part, AVIC would upgrade 35 airstrips across the islands in two phases.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in November 2019 by Solomon Islands Minister of Communications and Aviation, Peter Shanel Agovaka, came after the Pacific nation transferred diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing. Last month, China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact, stoking fears in Australia about a possible Chinese military presence on the islands.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the World Bank are already supporting the modernization of airport infrastructure in the Solomon Islands.