A year ago today, a new era in the modern history of aviation in Samoa started.
It began when Samoa Airways new aircraft, flown all the way from Europe, touched down at Faleolo International Airport to a thunderous applause from guests invited to witness the event.
Among them were two very proud men who had been working extremely hard to make that particular day possible. One was the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell, who is also responsible for Samoa Airways, the other is Chief Executive Officer, Seiuli Alvin Tuala.
With Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi giving them his full backing, there was simply no stopping them.
“This is a big development in Samoa’s future,” Lautafi said then.
“We are very positive that this is a move in the right direction. To grow as a nation we have to start taking steps ourselves and stop relying on others so this is a new venture.”
Chief Executive Seiuli was equally optimistic.
“The real work starts now.
We have to focus on a lot of things and make sure that we provide a very good service to our people,” he said.
“We would really like the country to get behind its national carrier and support it. Things have happened in the past and now that’s gone. This is a new day and we are looking forward to serving our people. We have very good teams that we work with and we are looking forward to the future.”
The objectives from the start were quite clear.
“We want to see Samoa Airways grow and make sure we have more routes and more passengers,” Seiuli said. “We have to work now to make it successful and try to serve our people as best we can.”
Well who could fault that?
But now that the airline has turned a year old this week, how fares Samoa’s national carrier? Has Seiuli and his team fulfilled the goals they set out from the start?
Well let’s quickly look at his last statement as a basis to form an opinion.
Has the airline grown to have more routes?
The answer is yes. A year ago, it only flew between Apia and Auckland, vice versa. That’s not the case anymore. Samoa Airways is not only servicing that particular route, it has also added Sydney and now Brisbane to its flights. Which is a sign of growth.
Are more people flying with Samoa Airways?
Well that’s hard to say unless we see the actual figures. We know that load numbers at the beginning were quite low but we’ve also been told that there has been an improvement. How much of an improvement we don’t know.
Has Samoa Airways served the people of Samoa to the best of its ability?
It depends on who you talk to really. There have been some challenges and the negative experiences here and there but the feedback from most travellers has been positive. Which is another plus for the airline.
That’s not all. We also know that there are Samoan pilots who are starting to fly the plane, which means the time is coming when the airline will no longer need foreign pilots and crew. Those are the positives.
But the biggest question that remains is the issue of finances. How has the airlines finances stacked up a year later? We know Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration has constantly downplayed concerns about the airline’s financial stability.
A year later though, surely they must now have an idea of how it’s performing. Not that we expect a miracle in terms of results but it would be good to get an indication of whether it is profiting or not.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. Aviation is not an industry for the fainthearted. That’s because it is a money-hungry machine that requires cash, cash and more cash. The history of failed airlines all over the world exists to remind us that Samoa Airways is a risky undertaking.
Besides, we simply cannot forget the past. The last time the government tried to run such a huge commercial operation, it nearly bankrupted the country.
At one point when the airline had gone from one Boeing aircraft to a four-Boeing fleet, its debt had ballooned to “over $50 million” in aircraft leases. It was then that the risk of bankruptcy became very real and all the taxpayers of this country ended up shouldering the burden.
Today, we cannot ignore what happened then. We say this because surely the Government of today would not want a repeat. We also want to remind that it was the prickly combination of corruption and mismanagement that dragged Polynesian Airlines down the mud which means today’s operation must take a different path.
As we’ve said before this could either be the most brilliant idea the government has come up with for a while or it could be the craziest thing it has done yet.
Indeed, running an international airline in this day and age is not something you enter into blindly. If it was difficult back in the days of Polynesian, it would be even more challenging now given the demands and dynamics of today’s competitive business world.
Not once, not twice but over several instances where Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Government has reassured members of the public that Samoa Airways is in good financial health.
We sure hope so.
But until we see some concrete numbers, the one positive is that Samoa Airways has turned one and it is still flying consistently. What do you think?
Have a fabulous Tuesday Samoa, God bless!