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Domestic issues taking its toll on the new Samoa Air

Samoa Air has taken drastic steps to stay afloat by making staff redundant and selling an aircraft. Airline’s chief executive Chris Langton told ISLANDS BUSINESS that they have had to take the action because of two issues involving the state-owned airline—Polynesian Airlines Limited (PAL).

PAL reopened Fagalii Airport on Upolu Island charging its own fees to competitors like Samoa Air, and secondly, Samoa Air was anticipating privatisation but this has yet to take place.

“The situation has slowed us down a lot,” he said. “We felt we had no choice but to wait until the situation at Fagalii was resolved and there are good reasons for needing a firm timeline for privatisation of PAL.

“It was a situation which can’t go on forever,” he added.

Fagalii had closed in 2005 due to its poor state but was reopened recently by PAL. Government had since revealed its own concerns about the matter, preferring the appropriate organisation—Samoa Airport Authority (SAA)—to take over the airport’s operations.

PAL’s chief executive Taua Fatu Tielu resigned last September after the government insisted the airline should hand over the operations of the airport to SAA. PAL had argued that if the airport was handed back to SAA, it would close again because it was not be in a position to maintain it.

As a result of the two issues, Langton was forced to sell one aircraft to Real Tonga, which meant a certain amount of job losses also. That aircraft, he said, used to service the Samoa/American Samoa route which has now ceased operation.

“We had to make some hard decisions and that led to us to selling the aircraft where we also made some of our crew members available to the buyer until they got set up. “So that leaves us with one aircraft for our air taxi service and a daily link between Upolu and Savaii as well. That market is slowly growing but has a long way to go yet.

“We would hope to bring a second small aircraft online next year to keep the domestic scene moving. I’ll be basing an aircraft over in Savaii in the new year.”

Langton did not disclose how many staff members had been made redundant but said most staff members were given options to furlough or move on.

“So right now, it’s a pretty small number from the 28 or so we had when we were flying to Pago Pago.

“Basically it’s a wait and see because we do want to acquire other aircraft but we need to have that level playing field."



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