Planes should be able to land safely on the outer islands in bad weather, after the development of new satellite-based flight approaches.
The Cook Islands teamed up with New Zealand’s Airways International in a four-year air navigation project that they promise will make commercial travel around the Cooks and the wider Pacific safer.
The next step, as signalled by Finance Minister Mark Brown this week, is to seal the airstrips of the more remote islands – which is expected to open them up to Air Rarotonga tourist flights.
The region-wide Pacific Aeronautical Charting and Procedures project, which also involved Vanuatu, Niue, Nauru, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, was funded by the New Zealand aid programme.
It came after Pacific leaders identified a need to maintain and upgrade the region’s aviation services.
Cook Islands Airport Authority’s director of operations, Tony Wearing, said the project involved extensive topographical surveys in Rarotonga and the outer islands.
“The main objective was to review and upgrade existing satellite-based approaches but also, for the Cook Islands, to develop and introduce new approaches for the outer islands, that had none,” he said.
“These upgraded satellite based approaches do further enhance safety and complement our conventional ground-based navigational aids for Rarotonga.”
The $3.02 million project also included accurate surveying of runways and terrain to identify and remove obstacles, like trees and buildings that could encroach on flight paths.
For the outer islands, Wearing said, the new satellite-based approaches would provide better chances of landing during poor weather. This would lessen the likelihood of domestic flights having to turn back to Rarotonga without landing, in storms.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade release said the safety of aviation was “vital” to the economies of Pacific Island countries, for tourism, trade and connecting people and families between islands.
The ministry’s transport boss, David Weinstein, said the project would “hugely improve aviation safety in Pacific countries”.