Palau and Papua New Guinea governments signed a bilateral Air Service Agreement on Wednesday, 23 August, 2023.
PNG Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation, Walter Schnaubelt, and Charles Obichang, Minister of Public Infrastructure and Industry of Palau, signed on behalf of their respective countries.
The bilateral air agreement negotiations between the two nations began in 2018 and progressed in 2019 and 2020 but were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations resumed in 2022 after Australia extended its Pacific Flights Program to Palau, according to Schnaubelt.
“This bilateral Air Service Agreement between the Republic of Palau and the Independent State of PNG is a significant development deliverable and emerges as a tangible outcome of Australia’s Aid programme initiatives within the Pacific region, and I give credit to the Australian Government for its tireless efforts in ensuring that such milestone achievements become feasible and for the ultimate benefit of our two countries,” stated MP Schnaubelt.
“With this Air Service Agreement, we are committing to enhancing these connections between our two nations and, in doing so, enriching the lives of our citizens,” said Minister Charles Obichang, adding that the agreement “will serve as an impetus for economic prosperity and by liberalising our air services, we are paving the way for increased trade and investment opportunities.”
The Pacific Flights programme, an Australian aid programme that connects Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Palau, was supposed to end in June of this year, according to Obichang. Minister Obichang reported that during the signing of the Compact Review Agreement in Papua New Guinea in May of this year, President Surangel Whipps Jr requested PNG Prime Minister James Marape, the Prime Minister of Australia, and the CEO of Air New Guinea to extend the programme, which with Prime Minister Marape’s support, was extended to December of this year.
“Palau aspires to be a leading travel destination, and we understand that travel has the remarkable power to break down barriers and promote mutual understanding. With easier access to each other’s countries, our people will be able to explore new destinations, experience diverse cultures, and build lifelong memories. This agreement will undoubtedly boost tourism, making it simpler for tourists to visit our beautiful island, hospitable people and vibrant cultures,” added Minister Obichang, citing the benefits of the bilateral Air Service Agreement.
“This bilateral Air Service Agreement is a move in the right direction not only for Palau but also for PNG in terms of promoting trade, commerce, and tourism, including people-to-people links,” expressed Schnaubelt, Minister for Transport, PNG.
Pacific Flights programme, an Australian aid programme that subsidises flights between the Pacific Small Developing States, enabled connectivity and transport of essential goods during the COVID pandemic and was later expanded to support recovery, was extended to Palau in February. Under the programme, Air Niugini provided air services between Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Palau twice a month.
Passenger loads on this flight route have been steadily growing since it started, according to Kadoi Ruluked, Managing Director of Palau’s Visitors Authority. However, the numbers are still not at sustainable levels. “We are working with different booking companies and tour agents in Australia to help promote this route. This route provides additional options for travelers from Australia as well as travelers from Asia, Europe, and America’s, and we are telling people of this new option,” added Ruluked.
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