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The Chairman and Members of the Rotuma Council, District Chiefs of Rotuma,
Fiji Airports Executive Chairman and Board Director – Tui Macuata,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Noa’ia, ni sa bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

We gather here today on the heels of what has been a whirlwind of a week for Fiji; from the Fijian Drua’s weekend win over Queensland Country to claim the National Rugby Championship crown, to the crown royals Harry and Meghan being hosted by the proud son of Rotuma, His Excellency Jioji Konrote, it has been a week for the history books.

And now, we add to that string of momentous occasions with yet another. I join you this morning –– my first trip here since 2014 –– after having embarked on what is truly an historic journey: the inaugural ATR flight from Nadi to Rotuma. This flight path –– one that has been made possible by the runway extension we’re celebrating here today – – will open doors for Rotuma that will forever change the face of this beautiful island, and will forever enrich the lives of the many Fijian families who call it their home.

Anyone who used the Rotuma Airport before today knows all 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 –– a common occurrence that 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. There were weeks –– long stretches that went by without a single departure. And finally, once the clouds cleared, the rain dried, and the planes took off, the flight time was over two-and-a-half hours long –– and if you’re like me, every minute on those tiny planes feels like an hour.

Everyone recognised these problems. 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. And just like with those projects, the Rotuma Runway Extension has, once again, proven them very, very 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. And 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.

Your extended runway is now both wider and longer, with a full 1,400 metres of chip-sealed pavement. We’ve improved the site’s drainage, upgraded the apron to accommodate two ATRs, installed new security fencing, and enhanced the runway end safety area. A new fire station is 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.

All said, this is far more than just a facelift –– it is a comprehensive overhaul that amounts to a far safer and more efficient airport. This new 12.8 million-dollar project, completed in just over one year’s time, will have a domino effect that will 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; this morning’s flight nearly halved the previous travel time, taking only around ninety minutes from gate to gate. 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.

And with such a large increase in potential passenger arrivals, the floodgates of trade and tourism dollars will be opened to 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.

I would like to thank Fiji Airports Executive Chairman Faiz Khan, its board, and their entire team for delivering another successful infrastructure development –– one that will mark a new beginning for the future of Rotuma.

It is now my great pleasure to officially declare the new Rotuma runway open for business.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications