Final touches put to remote airstrip in Solomon Islands
The finishing touches are being put to the remote airstrip on Nusatupe island in the Solomon Islands this week.
A remote runway in Solomon Islands is due to be completed by next week, as the final part of New Zealand's biggest single aid package.
The old runway on Nusatupe Island near Gizo in the Western Province has been upgraded, after falling into disrepair.
The project completes the US$20 million package that also saw an international runway on Munda and a 19-kilometre road laid from Munda to Noro.
Alex Perrottet was there as workers smoothed the runway.
The remote airstrip is an hour and a half by speedboat from Munda, passing by some idyllic islands and water with narrow passages through coral reefs. The largest of the Solomon Airlines domestic turbo-prop aircraft will soon be able to land here, close to Gizo - the capital of the province and the second biggest town in the country. Janek Czastka is the site supervisor for the design company Aecom, and says the runway was in desperate need of repair.
JANEK CZASTKA: The surface here was very bad. Solomon Airlines were having a lot of trouble with blown tyres and damage to the aircraft and it was pretty much like a potholed road. And if you saw the surface for yourself you probably wouldn't believe that aeroplanes were landing on it here on a regular basis. So with the amount of aggregate that we're putting down and then with the weather-proofing with the chip seal on top it's going to ensure that this airport will be serviceable for a good 25 years, hopefully longer.
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully was on hand to inspect the work and open the completed international runway on Munda. He says it wasn't an easy project, but will have plenty of benefits.
MURRAY MCCULLY: We've had a few bumps along the road, as they say, and all of our team have had to learn to go with the flow occasionally. We've had some landowner issues, not just particularly related to the airport, but the quarry. But the big challenge of removing all the World War II ordinance out of the strip was a big deal. One 1,000-pound aerial bomb and three 500-pound aerial bombs had been sitting under here and a whole lot of ammunition, as well.
Mr Czastka says there was one bump in the road in particular that had to be removed.
JANEK CZASTKA: There was a huge hump mid-runway, so you'd be taking off, you'd go over the bump and you think you're taking off, but you're not, you just go down again, and then you take off. As material source is normally an issue when you're working in remote areas in the Pacific, we were fortunate enough to use that hump material. And we extracted 11,000 cubes. It's gone all the way down that end of the runway about 300 metres and another 600 metres down that way.
The trade commissioner for New Zealand, Michael Greenslade, says companies like Aecom and the construction company Downer needed to work through challenging logistics to get equipment here.
MICHAEL GREENSLADE: To be honest it's a real leap of faith and many of these companies when you talk to them about doing business up here, they often start the project without a firm contract in place and often start the contract without necessarily a proper cash flow system in place, simply because of how long it takes governments to put this in place. So many of the companies that are involved in the Pacific, I think are first and foremost involved because of their passion for the Pacific.
But he says the assurance of being paid, through the New Zealand funding, is comforting, and the investments in the islands can really pay off.
MICHAEL GREENSLADE: Some of these big projects have got reasonably good margins on them as well, and those margins have certainly helped a lot of companies during the last couple of years when the recession has hit pretty hard in New Zealand.
The huge expanse of light-coloured aggregate is now being sealed with a layers of bitumen, and the long term sustainability of moving locals and tourists around these remote places is a step closer, with flights due to arrive on Monday 9 September.
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