Samoa Airways inaugural flight has been hailed a success.
Flight OL731 touched down in Auckland with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi among the passengers. He was joined by the Airline’s Minister, Lautafi Fio Purcell, Chairman of Samoa Airways, Fe’esago Siaosi Fepulea’i, C.E.O Seiuli Alvin Tuala and a host of other guests.
Speaking at a welcome event at Auckland Airport, Minister Lautafi said he hoped the airline would grow to challenge Air New Zealand on the Auckland/Apia route.
“This is another opportunity for our people to allow our business to grow,” he said. The flights would also allow more mobility between the two island nations.
“Auckland is a second Samoa - and more and more Samoans are living in Auckland as their second home or their first home.”
Chairman Fe’esago said Samoa Airways is a good venture to be involved with.
“We’ve waited a long time for this, our airline [has been] controlled from overseas, we are now back where we should have been in the beginning,” he told the gathering.
Fe’esago said he welcomed “criticism for the betterment of our services”, but he challenged those “knocking” the airline and for Samoan people to back its airline.
“It [the airline] belongs to Samoa,” he said.
Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said Samoa Airways was the 31st international airline to operate at the airport.
“Connecting Samoa and Auckland, in particular, means a lot for our neighbours in the community and staff,” he said.
Also at the welcoming ceremony were Samoan dignitaries, Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples Carmel Sepuloni and Auckland Mayor Lilomaiava Phil Goff. Sepuloni said the flights would lift trade and tourism between the two countries and bring closer ties.
The associate minister said the service would tie in well with upgrades to Faleolo International Airport in Apia.
Later in the evening, a dinner at Samoa’s official headquarters in Auckland at Mangere saw who is who of the Samoan community gather for a grand celebration. The aircraft returned yesterday afternoon.
The airline has been rebranded from the state-owned Polynesian Airlines.
The new airline came about after the Samoan Government announced in May that it was walking away from Virgin Samoa, its joint venture with Virgin Australia Holdings, to go it alone, RNZ reported.
Virgin Australia had announced plans to start flights from Auckland to Apia, but since then the Samoan Government had denied it permission to operate the route.
The airline, however, is allowed to operate services from Brisbane and Sydney to Faleolo International AirportIt’s an ambitious timetable for Samoa Airways.
The airline’s sole Boeing 737-800, leased from Iceland Air, will operate six return flights from Apia to Auckland a week and twice-weekly services from Sydney to Apia.
At the official launch at Faleolo, Prime Minister Tuilaepa delivered a tough message to everyone involved.
“It is time that we stand up and it is time that we support our own airline and support Samoa,” he said.
“We are at the tipping point and your support will ensure that Samoa Airways grows and Samoa grows. We have a beautiful country with so much to offer, now we can grow and showcase the beauty of our country our culture and our people.
“To our airline management and staff, this is the time to work as professionals, to act as professionals, to put your best foot forward, to show case Samoa and its airline to the world.
“Do it right, do it properly and make the airline profitable. The Government has not given the airline any funds to start the airline as you must run it as a business. You have had 12 years of running the smaller Airline profitably, Show that with the jet services. Give it your best. Prove that we can do this and do it well. I urge our people and our country, come and support your national carrier. Be proud of what Samoa can do.”