Solomons - Solomon Airlines (IE, Honiara) is looking to secure a second A320-200 to capitalise on demand for travel to Honiara for the 17th Pacific Games later this year. Solomon Airlines CEO Gus Kraus told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission that a letter of intent (LOI) had been signed with the lessor and lease negotiations were expected to commence shortly.

If the lease proceeds, it will provide the state-owned carrier with its second jet aircraft and offer some much needed capacity when the other aircraft goes out of service. Kraus did not provide specific information on the incoming aircraft, other than saying it was former Jetstar Airways (JQ, Melbourne Tullamarine) Airbus stock, and that he hoped to have it by July or August.

“The purchase will see us having a new modern airplane that is under 10 years old," he said. "That’s the newest airplane we’ve got." Solomon Airlines currently operates a fleet of five aircraft, including one 18.04 year-old A320-200, one 31.79 year-old DHC-8-100, and three DHC-6-300s variously aged 47.08 years, 47.49 years, and 53.32 years old.

Kraus says aside from providing extra capacity over the Pacific Games period, the additional jet would be used on charters, including seasonal work charters, and flights to Port Moresby and Kiribati. "There's plenty of work ahead," he said. "In the longer term, we want to talk with Tonga and Samoa if they have a need for airline services as they don’t have national airlines."

According to ch-aviation fleets data, Jetstar has exited three A320-200s since the start of 2022, with the two most recent transferring to Network Aviation (NWK, Perth International), a closed charter specialist airline also owned by Qantas (QF, Sydney Kingsford Smith). However, ch-aviation has confirmed that the aircraft under negotiation is 2-HVFN (msn 5566). Jetstar returned the plane, then registered as VH-VFN, to BOC Aviation in October 2022. The aircraft is 10.16 years old and is currently at Singapore Seletar for maintenance. Representatives from Solomon Airlines plan to inspect the aircraft next week.

Meanwhile, Kraus also said having its sole A320-200, H4-SIB (msn 2445), out of service multiple times this year had proven a costly exercise for the small state-owned airline. He said the aircraft was out of service for ten days in January, three days in March, and fourteen days in late April/early May. The beneficiary was Nauru Airlines (Nauru) which billed Solomon Airlines SBD4.5 million Solomon Islands dollars (USD540,000) for charter flights.

"All revenues made from selling tickets, we don’t keep because we must pay it out for the chartered flights," said Kraus. "This affects us in two ways; us paying another operator to provide our services, and paying the Airbus lease payments."

He confirmed the most recent out-of-service incident was due to a fuel contamination issue in the wing fuel tanks, which he says are checked every time the aircraft lands. "The recent contamination was found in the wing tanks. This saw our maintenance controller in Brisbane making the decision for us to ground the plane."

Kraus also said that H4-SIB would be out of service for two weeks from May 22 for scheduled maintenance at Melbourne Tullamarine. During this time, Nauru Airlines will operate many of Solomon Airlines' scheduled A320 flights but Kraus said he was also looking for another short term wet-lessor to cover what Nauru Airlines could not.