Govt.’s Samoa Airways plan, Florence Palamo and the question of funding

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

On page 2 of the Weekend Observer, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi made a wonderful announcement in relation to Samoa’s national flag carrier, Samoa Airways. 

A year and a few months into the Airline’s operations, the Government is moving to expand its services by acquiring much-needed additional aircraft.

The Prime Minister, whom we know has been a driving force behind the launch and the airline’s operations so far, sounded extremely optimistic in making the announcement.

 “We anticipate having our second airplane running during the Pacific Games and we are looking at June for that development,” he said. 

But that’s not all.

“Also in March 2019, the current airplane will be replaced with a bigger aircraft.” Tuilaepa added that all these plans have been put in place to improve the services currently provided by the airline. 

Which is fantastic, isn’t it? What proud Samoan would not want the nation’s airline to grow and succeed? And who runs a business with the intention of failing anyway? 

Ironically, while the Prime Minister was gloating about the Government’s grand plans on the Weekend Observer, passenger Florence Palamo and many other Samoans were stranded at Sydney’s International Airport after their Samoa Airways flight to Faleolo was cancelled. The cancellation was apparently caused by bad weather.

Still, Florence Palamo was not happy so she took to Facebook to express her displeasure.

 “Thanks for nothing Samoa Airways I’ve never experienced this before where they tell us to board three times and then go to the door of the plane to get told sorry we are cancelling the flight,” she wrote. 

“My heart melted to see our elderly people stranded at the airport and Samoa airways can’t even provide us with a hotel they told us to go home. Who the hell does that? 

“We try to support our airline but they don’t treat us the way we should. Especially our elderly they don’t even have respect for them. Well Samoa airways you have failed our people big time tonight we have been running around like headless chickens been told to go from one gate to the other just to be told oh sorry we are cancelling the flight then they say oh no we can board now then again they said sorry flights cancelled. 

“Hope the Samoa Observer or TV1 News get this because this is not a good look.

“So we are now just sitting around the airport with our young kids, babies and our elderly waiting for our flight no shops open no nothing. Kalofae i nai matua ua Le amanaia ua fa’amomoe solo ile airport leai se Meaai, leai se vai, kalofae ia Samoa.” This post, accompanied by photos of passengers sleeping on the floor across the airport, has gone viral, attracting much attention. 

Keep in mind that it wasn’t just passengers in Sydney who were inconvenienced. Passengers in Samoa waiting for flights to Australia and New Zealand were also inconvenienced, with the airline being forced to push back all their flights.

In the end, Samoa Airways responded in a statement. Part of it reads: “The Airline apologises for the inconvenience caused, as a result of the disruption which was caused by unsuitable weather conditions, and reminds customers to ensure they have travel insurance coverage for unforeseen situations and emergencies.”

Let’s try and look at this as rationally as possible. Flight delays happen from time to time anywhere in the world. It happens even to the best of airlines. In this case, the weather is to blame, which is something beyond the control of the airline. The reality though for Samoa Airways is that this was bound to happen, given the fact the Airline only has one aircraft. It is a miracle that the airline is still able to operate this many flights with one aircraft.  

Questions remain as to whether the Airline could’ve done more to support the passengers in Sydney and Samoa, who were inconvenienced. They all have stories to tell and they are not positive. We know from experience with other carriers that the airline is ultimately responsible for the welfare of people – accommodation and food – conditional to the reasons why a flight is cancelled. Should Samoa Airways have done the same? 

If anything, what happened during the weekend perhaps validates the Government’s plan to acquire two more aircrafts. There is nothing wrong with that.

But here is the multi-million-tala question: How on earth is Samoa Airways going to fund these grand plans? The fact is that apart from the Government’s verbal assurance that the airline is performing well financially, we haven’t seen any solid evidence that it is. 

Which is the real worry. 

It is one thing to grow an operation; it’s quite another when you are growing it with loans and losses. 

We say this because at the end of the day, taxpayers are the ones who will have to bail out the airline. We’ve seen this before and we don’t want a repeat. 

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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