Minister denies Airline loss claims

By Ilia L. Likou ,

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Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Fio Purcell.

Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Fio Purcell. (Photo: Samoa Observer)

The Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Fio Purcell, has strongly rejected claims the national airline is already running at a loss.

A few months after the Airline was launched last year, reliable sources told the Samoa Observer the Airline is accumulating a loss that could have huge implications on its future plans.

The sources could not put a figure to the loss but they claim that it is "substantial" and "growing every month."

When the Samoa Observer contacted the Minister for a comment, he quickly rubbished the reports.

“That is not true,” he said. “Where did you get your figures from? That’s not true.”

The Minister did not elaborate.

Asked for a proper interview, Lautafi said he was not immediately available as he was tied up with meetings in relation to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Samoa visit. It was not possible to get a comment from the Airline’s management.

But concerns about the profitability of the airline and its operational costs are not new.

Last year, the Airline has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny reports that it is paying US$500,000 (T$1.25 million) a fortnight to lease the B767-300 aircraft from Icelandic Air.

After refererring the Samoa Observer to the Airline’s management for a comment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi later changed his tune.

“These are commercial secrets, it cannot be revealed,” he said. “These things are commercial contracts, and if you inquire with any airline companies, they will never allow that to be known.”

At that point, the Samoa Observer put it to the Prime Minister that Samoa Airways is government-owned and that members of the public deserve to know.

But he disagreed.

“These are commercial secrets, it cannot be revealed,” he responded.  “It cannot be publically announced, these are commercial based secrets.”  

Samoa Observer pressed that this is a Government-owned airline; Tuilaepa again intervened and said “when the accounts are available that’s the time you will know.” 

He was asked to point out when that will happen and Tuilaepa said “the end of every year.”

When the Airline was launched last November, Minister Lautafi assured that they have learnt their lessons from Polynesian Airline’s losses.

 “I don’t even think about what happened in the past, that was before my time and if anything we have learnt lessons from that,” he said.  

 “That’s why Polynesian Airlines failed because they didn’t do the things they should have done. We should manage Samoa Airways as a business – effectively and efficiently to make money and at the same time we service our people, that’s what it’s all about."

 “We’ve got to balance our service for our people with profitability. We have to survive and number one, we have to look after ourselves first.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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