So there you have it ladies and gentlemen.
After all the talk and the excitement of the past few days, with Samoa Airways inaugural flight from Faleolo International Airport to Auckland this morning, a new era has started for Samoa.
It is a new beginning in this nation’s aviation history, which promises lots of excitement, growth and opportunities. Who doesn’t want that? Who wouldn’t feel inspired by the endless potential?
But let’s also not kid ourselves here. Aviation is not an industry for the fainthearted. That’s because it is fraught with many difficulties, challenges and uncertainties.
The history of failed airlines all over the world exists to remind us that for the government and the people of Samoa, the launch of Samoa Airways is indeed a bold move, especially given the current economic challenges here and abroad.
For that, we commend Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s bravery. He has been instrumental in getting the airline up and running since day one. The Airline’s Minister, Lautafi Fio Purcell, the C.E.O. Seiuli Alvin Tuala, the Board of Polynesian Airlines and everyone involved should feel rightfully proud today.
But why not?
Such feelings were clearly evident when the aircraft landed on Saturday – and even yesterday evening - when scores of people flooded to the airport to check out Samoa’s new toy. On page 2 nd 3 of the paper you are reading, Tuilaepa clearly has a hardline message for everyone.
His Minister Lautafi is also man full of optimism.
“This is a big development in Samoa’s future. 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,” he said.
Well he’s right. That said though, we 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 want to remind that it was the prickly combination of corruption and mismanagement that dragged the airline down the mud.
The good thing is that Minister Lautafi is obviously well aware.
“I don’t even think about what happened in the past, that was before my time and if anything we have learnt lessons from that,” he said. “That’s why Polynesian Airlines failed because they didn’t do the things they should have done. We should manage Samoa Airways as a business – effectively and efficiently to make money and at the same time we service our people, that’s what it’s all about.”
Chief Executive Seiuli shares the Minister’s optimism but he knows the road ahead will be challenging.
“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 want to see Samoa Airways grow and make sure we have more routes and more passengers. We have to work now to make it successful and try to serve our people as best we can.”
“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.”
Lastly, he urges Samoans to get behind their national airline.
“Without the country we can’t move forward. We need the country’s support and we need our people behind us and I guess that’s the main thing, it’s the people – we’re here to serve them,” he said.
“We’re here to look after them and in turn they’ll look after us. It can’t be done on your own; you’ve got to have your people right behind you.”
We couldn’t agree more.
We really hope our people can get behind Samoa Airways and support them all the way.
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.
But don’t say the government has not been warned. Today, not once, twice but over several instances where the government has reassured members of the public that they know what they are doing. We pray and hope that Samoa Airways is successful.
Safe travels to all the passengers on Samoa Airway’s inaugural flight today, and have a great Tuesday, Samoa!