It’s official. Virgin Australia has signalled its intention to maintain services to Samoa after its Virgin Samoa joint-venture with the government winds up in November.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s government has warned that it might not be that easy.
In a statement issued by the government, Prime Minister Tuilaepa indicated that at the end of the day, his government will have a huge say in deciding the outcome of Virgin’s application.
“I am waiting to see what they bring to the negotiating table,” he said. “But it would be stupid for government to say yes again and again.”
According to www.australianaviation.com.au, Virgin Australia has applied to Australia’s International Air Services Commission (I.A.S.C) for 880 seats of capacity a week between Australia and Samoa.
“Virgin Australia intends to commence five services per week between Australia and Samoa from 13 November 2017,” Virgin said in its letter to the I.A.S.C dated July 10 2017.
“These flights will be operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft configured with 176 seats.”
In May, the Samoan government announced the Virgin Samoa joint venture between Virgin Australia and country would be terminated by November.
Media reports at the time said the move to ditch the JV, which was formed in 2005, was due to concerns over high fares.
Virgin Samoa is 49 per cent held by Virgin Australia, 49 per cent by the Samoan government and two per cent by Samoa-based tourism company Grey Investment Group.
It flies from the Samoan capital Apia to Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney.
The airline does not own any aircraft.
Instead, Virgin Australia operates services on behalf of the joint-venture airline. However, one Boeing 737-800 has been painted in a special livery that features a special Virgin Samoa livery.
Prior to his sudden departure as group executive for Virgin Australia airlines in late June, John Thomas told Australian Aviation on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (I.A.T.A) annual general meeting in Cancun, Mexico the airline was keen to maintain air links with Samoa following the end of the partnership with the government.
“At a group perspective we would like to continue to have a presence there so we are working through what could be possible,” Thomas said on June 4.
“Obviously there is the classic V.F.R market but we do believe there is potential to grow those markets with tourism.
“The nice thing about it with the 737 it is the right gauge of aircraft for that route.”
In July, the Samoan government said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Fiji Airways to help establish a new carrier Samoa Airways, with the current domestic carrier Polynesian Airlines to be part of the new venture.
From the start, Tuilaepa said his government had made it crystal clear that there is huge potential in Samoa’s tourism industry to accommodate more flights.
“And Virgin’s application also reaffirms what we have insisted that they were deliberately scaling down flights to Samoa to increase airfares.”
In his weekly radio programme with Radio 2AP, Tuilaepa recalled that when the PolyBlue joint venture between Virgin Airlines and Polynesian Airlines was in place, flights between Australia and Samoa were limited to two flights a week.
And since then government have been trying time and again to add more flights but were rejected by Virgin Australia on the grounds that there was not enough demand to justify more
“After crunching the numbers, we had justification for added flights but not according to Virgin Airlines,” recalled the Prime Minister.
“And it’s fair to note that even Air New Zealand is looking at adding more flights to Samoa using their bigger 777 aircraft.
“To me, it shows that both Virgin and Air New Zealand are scrambling and it could have a lot to do with our intention to re-launch our national carrier.”