The first phase of the $140million upgrade to the Faleolo International Airport has received a pass mark.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi hailed the development as a step in the right direction in terms of Samoa’s development. Officially opened yesterday, hundreds of government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and non-government organisation representatives were there to check out the place.
The first phase consists of an area for passengers to check in, flight information display, public address and integration system, departure lounges, duty-free shops, restaurant and more.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa praised the quality of the facility saying it was a state-of-the-art development.
“This new departure area is equipped with modern state of the art technology for passengers,” said Tuilaepa.
“Samoa Airport Authority’s vision is to be the Pacific hub of air travel. It is government’s hope that more new air carriers will make use of the new Faleolo facilities to push our tourism and trade transport.”
Tuilaepa added that negotiations are ongoing with several business people to achieve government’s hope.
Speaking in Samoan, Tuilaepa said there have been many complaints about the development, with people questioning the state of the country’s foreign debt.
But he said the government couldn’t just sit around while there are concessional loans, which provide opportunities for development.
“No one else will develop Samoa, we have to plan it,” he said.
“If we are afraid of it we will only go backwards and not move forward yet we have a growing number of children. The government needs to develop different services.”
Lastly, Tuilaepa extended his gratitude towards the Shanghai Construction Group for the completion of the first phase.
He urged the S.A.A. to maintain the quality of the facilities.
China’s Ambassador to Samoa, Wang Xuefeng, congratulated Samoa for the completion of the first phase.
He recalled that when he first visited the site last year all he saw was a huge pit where many Chinese workers were busy laying foundations for the future terminal building.
“I always saw Shanghai construction workers working very hard on site,” he said. “I often saw them walking on their way to the construction site very early in the morning and I saw them working, sweating all over on the site under hot sunshine when other people were enjoying holidays.
“I witnessed with my own eyes the rising of the building bit by bit and I am totally in awe by the magnificent appearance of the building when it has been finally completed.”
The Ambassador said he was bery proud of his Chinese compatriots.
“You are the people who make the magic happen,” he said.
There are 50 Samoan construction workers as well as some technicians and supervising engineers working together with Chinese counterparts.
Mr. Xuefeng also thanked the Samoan workers that supported the project in various ways.
According to the Ambassador once the project is completed it will reach the capacity of passengers of 600,000 per year.
“Till then Samoa will boast the best international airport in all the Pacific island countries, thus attracting more and more tourists from all over the world,” he said. “The upgrading project of the Faleolo international airport is a mileston in the cooperation in tourism and infrastructure between China and Samoa.
“One month ago, the air service agreement between China and Samoa was signed paving the way for the commercial cooperation in air service industry between our two countries as well as laying foundation for cooperation in tourism industry.”
The Ambassador also announced that in the coming years, the Huizhou city of Guangdong province will build a Friendship Park and a culture and arts center in Apia.
“All these facilities will greatly enrich the entertainment activities for tourists who come to Samoa,” he said.
“Last week the worldwide release of Disney’s Moana greatly increased the popularity of the Polynesian culture, making Pacific island countries including Samoa more attractive to tourists all over the world.
“We are fully confident of the bright prospect of beautiful Samoa and its development in tourism.”
S.A.A. Chief Executive Officer, Magele Hoe Viali spoke about a few obstacles during the first phase.
He said the cyclone season in 2015 and this year had contributed to the many delays.
“For two months we had had delays in shipping from Fiji due to the cyclone,” said Magele.
“That was one obstacle we encountered and of course the wet weather was another problem.”
Since the workers were a mixture of Chinese and local, the language barrier made things difficult.
However, having two translators brought in this year saw things flowing steadily with the Samoan and Chinese being able to communicate.
Asked about the expected revenue from the new facilities, Magele said it still needs to attract more airlines.
“If we have more flights we will have more people using it because we charge landing fees and taxes,” he said.
“But the more people that come in and out means revenue for us. We believe we can sustain the present level of charges without any unnecessary increase (in fees).”
The C.E.O. said the opinion of the public matters.
“We cannot just make changes without justification,” he said.
“At the moment we can sustain the facilities (without any increase).”
The first airline to use the new facility was Air New Zealand.
With such a huge facility, Magele was also asked if there were enough staff to operate it.
At the moment there are enough workers.
But once the whole facility is completed it will need to hire more people.
“The square area has doubled now,” he said.
“We used to have 5500 square meters but now its nearly 12,000 square meters so it has more space and requires more securities.
“The counters have increased…we have about 62 securities at the moment and would need another ten to add on to it as well as the number of cleaners to maintain it.”
Magele said maintenance for the facility will be a lot less in the first two years of the building.