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Opposition Pushes for New Planes Amid High Travel Costs, Minister Cites Financial Constraints


Minister of Samoa Airway

The opposition has called on the Minister of Samoa Airways, Leatinuu Wayne Fong, to consider acquiring new jet planes for Samoa. The Minister explained that upon assuming his role, he had to assess the current state of Samoa Airways to determine if it was still viable to operate.


Minister Fong stated, "When I came into position, the immediate task was to evaluate whether Samoa Airways could still function effectively. We had an aircraft leased by the previous administration and set to be brought to Samoa."



The Minister, the ministry's management, and the board of directors conducted a comprehensive review to decide whether maintaining the airline was feasible given the significant accumulated debt. This thorough process, which included careful research and submission of reports to the cabinet, concluded that the airline couldn't repay its debt, even with the newly leased Boeing plane.


Despite the challenges, the inter-island service provided by Samoa Airways, which operates smaller planes between American Samoa and Samoa, remains stable. Minister Fong noted, "The only steady aspect of Samoa Airways has been the inter-island routes. These smaller planes continue to perform well, providing a reliable service."


Minister Fong further revealed that a decision was made to overhaul the airline's management structure. "A decision was then reached to create a new board of directors to see how we can restructure the entire Samoa Airways operation," he said.


The Minister extended appreciation to the newly appointed board and the special committee tasked with facilitating the return of the leased Boeing aircraft. He thanked them and acknowledged the special committee's efforts in managing the return of the leased Boeing aircraft, which was acquired during the previous administration, without incurring excessive costs.

The Minister underscored the administration's strategic approach to national developments. He emphasised that the present administration only supports the retention of developments that meet necessary standards. The Minister highlighted the delicate state of the nation's economy, emphasising the unsuitability of operating a segment of Samoa Airways in the current economic climate.


In response to recommendations during a recent parliamentary session, Minister Fong addressed an opposition suggestion regarding the government's reliance on advice from the Financial Committee. He agreed with the recommendation and confirmed the government's cooperation with the Financial Committee, which advised against acquiring a new plane due to Samoa Airways' previous debt exceeding 90 million. The Minister also noted the reduction of the airline's debt to 7 million presently.


The Minister also highlighted ongoing initiatives aimed at revitalising the airline's operations. He emphasised the airline's board of directors, management, and financial advisors' joint efforts to achieve total operational capacity and profitability. Additionally, he pointed out that a substantial portion of the airline's debts has been settled, affording the ability to modernise the smaller planes used for intra-Samoa flights.


Regarding aircraft replacement, the Minister explained that a proposal to replace a 49-year-old plane was submitted to the cabinet. However, the Ministry of Finance did not approve the proposal due to the airline's substantial debts, which hindered its ability to obtain further loans. Consequently, the airline is utilising its internal revenue to finance the replacement of aging planes.


The opposition also suggested using Fiji Airways as a model and urged the Minister to think bigger. They believe that Samoa Airways can find a path to profitability and expansion by looking at successful regional examples.


Anoama'a 1 MP Alaiasa Sepulona Moananu highlighted the financial burden on Samoans due to high prices charged by foreign airlines for travel between Samoa and New Zealand. He urged the Minister to reconsider the decision, emphasising that "our people are suffering from these foreign airlines with their high prices to travel from Samoa to NZ. Samoans travel back and forth, almost costing them an arm and a leg."


In response, Minister Fong acknowledged the issue but reiterated the financial constraints. "There are other ways our people can pay for their airfares," he said. At this moment, bringing in a new plane is not financially feasible, not with the state of our economy. We can do things such as family faalavelaves in NZ and Samoa. We can't, at this stage, bring in a new plane."


Despite the opposition's dissatisfaction with the Minister's explanation, he firmly believed that his approach would benefit the airline and the economy in the long run. He reiterated his stance from two parliamentary sessions ago when he addressed Safata 1 MP Leaana Ronnie Posini, stating, "I want a new plane just as much as you do, but not at this moment."


The opposition's call for acquiring new jet planes, such as those that travel between Samoa, New Zealand, and other international destinations, aims to address these challenges and potentially revitalise the national airline. However, the decision remains complex given the financial difficulties outlined by the Minister.



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