Fiji Airways says its decision to operate a charter flight to Israel was based on purely commercial considerations.
Amidst the chaos of the Israeli-Hamas conflict, Fiji Airways safely retrieved more than 200 Fijians from Tel-Aviv to Nadi last Wednesday, in what some of them described as a ‘miracle flight.’
Passengers from Samoa , Tonga , New Zealand, Australia , Canada and the United States also travelled on the flight.
However, questions had been raised over how the Charter was funded, the airline’s financial exposure, and whether any political pressure was brought to bear.
In a statement this morning, Fiji Airways says “at no point did any Government Minister or other Government official exert any undue influence or pressure on the airline to operate the charter”. Fiji Airways highlighted that the decision was made independently by them.
It continues that whilst the terms of the charter agreement are confidential between Fiji Airways and the charterer, they can confirm that the charter is of commercial benefit to Fiji Airways.
The flight was arranged by Pacific Voyager on behalf of its clients ICEJ Fiji Branch and CMFI Faith Harvest Church. Fiji Airways says it has an established business relationship with that company, which operated successful international charters and repatriation flights during COVID.
The returning group was welcomed in a traditional ceremony when they landed in Nadi last week, with Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka saying: “Today, I stand with all Fijians to commend the valour, sacrifice, and tireless efforts of all who organised the daring but well-planned and executed repatriation of our fellow citizens and pilgrims possible, amidst the ongoing strife in Israel.
“I say well planned and executed because this was a Labour of Love.”
Meanwhile, Tonga Wires reports that 30 Tongan nationals have been safely evacuated from Israel, including some from New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, on a 61 passengers flight to London, chartered by the Tongan Government.
The flight departed at 1:38pm (Israel time) on Saturday 14 October, and landed at Stanstead Airport in England Sunday morning (Tonga time).
Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel just as the Pacific attendees to the ‘Feast of the Tabernacles’ were winding up their visits.
The BBC reports that more than 1400 people were killed in Israel when Hamas fighters crossed the border to attack civilians and soldiers. More than 2450 people have been killed by Israel’s bombing of Gaza in response to Hamas’ actions, say Palestinian authorities. Israeli troops are now massing on the border in preparation for an expected ground offensive.