It’s a well-known story. Our once proud flag carrier Polynesian Airlines has a very interesting history. Simply put, 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.
This story has been well told and we are not going to delve too much into the details in this piece. We believe we have said enough.
Suffice to say, we want to remind that it was the prickly combination of corruption and mismanagement that dragged the airline to the mess it had found itself in.
The fact is nobody wants to go back to those sad days. Which is why some members of the public and many critics of the government have been skeptical about the decision to revive Polynesian Airline’s international operations under the new Samoa Airways brand.
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. 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.
The good is that a lot has been said and written about this issue. All these views are important and although some of them are negative, they are well intended as we all care about the future of this country we call home.
Today, not once, twice but over several instances where the government has reassured members of the public that they know what they are doing.
The latest assurance came from the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, who believes the airline is financially stable to proceed with its plans.
During an interview with the Sunday Samoan, he also expressed confidence that Samoa Airways will mature to a point where it will be able to compete with other carriers flying to Samoa, including Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.
“We have been assured by Polynesian Airlines (Samoa Airways) they can manage the process of establishing a new airline and does not need help from the government,” Sili told the Sunday Samoan. “Up until now, they haven’t asked the government for any financial assistance. So they are quite comfortable that they have their own resources.”
Sili reiterates the government has learnt its lesson and that Polynesian Airlines has some great plans.
“This, to me is very good,” he said.
Asked about Polynesian Airlines trouble of the past, the Minister of Finance said it was time to move forward.
“I know what happened in the past,” he said. “However we need to learn from the past and move forward and make sure that we will tick the boxes that we will not repeat that again.
“I guess for me, I am being conservative because I want this to work as well because it will be good, for Samoa to have its own international airline.
“It will be good for our airline to be a successful commercial airline, for it to pay itself, but I think we need to try and not dwell in the past.”
Minister Sili is correct. As proud Samoans, we all want this airline to work.
And while we shouldn’t dwell in the past, we must never forget what happened. It is only when we remember the past that we can learn from the lessons and move forward.
What’s important here is that it is obviously something the management of Polynesian Airlines has done, as Chief Executive Officer, Seiuli Alvin Tuala, has assured.
“We have learnt a lot of lessons and I’m sure that we won’t make the same mistakes,” he said.
“Again it’s never easy running an airline. As a country we need our own air services that will not only be affordable, but also this will enable to connect us to the world. Samoa is well placed in the Pacific.”
Added Seiuli: “Samoa desperately needs to be in the game that Fiji has run ahead and in terms of tourism, we need this partnership. We need to bring in more tourists, we need to focus on developing tourism.”
In that same spirit, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has also welcomed the plan by Virgin Australia to continue to fly to Samoa after the Virgin Samoa joint-venture with the government ends in November.
What that means is that with Samoa Airways set to take off in November, it would provide another option for the travelling public which will hopefully lower the ridiculous fares we are paying at present.
With that said, let’s pray that the government and Polynesian Airlines don’t stuff up this time. But then this is something only time will tell.
So stay tuned!