A new airline, which promises a competitive but sustainable service was launched at the Fagali’i airport yesterday.
Talofa Airways is the realisation of a dream by the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Toleafoa Capt. Jeffrey Hunter and his wife Maria Westerlund Hunter.
During the opening yesterday, Toleafoa recalled that in 1996, the family had to decide between setting up a family business in Samoa or return to the United States. They decided to stay in Samoa where they would contribute to the development with their skills. Maria is a Pharmacist by profession.
The global economic downturn after 2001 helped with their decision to stay.
“It was only natural with the type of business that we were planning on to stay home and so the idea of moving back overseas was taken out of the equation,” he said.
“Even though the idea of an airline was not a guarantee based on its complexities, we still went on with our plan A. We opened the Maria’s Healthcare Pharmacy in February 2002 and from then we invested towards the possibility of an airline.”
Tole’afoa said that from then onwards, he did his homework. That involved analyzing the right airplane, the market, costs, aviation laws and everything about the logistics.
“At the end of the study, after taking major factors into consideration such as the distance between island nations we wanted to serve,” they had to consider the “limitations with regards to runway lengths, the issue of availability of field at most airports and the economic viability of the aircraft as well as its safety records.”
Toleafoa then settled to choose the twin commander aircraft to start operations.
In doing so he sought expert advice from the manufacture of twin Commander aircrafts in United States and particularly in relation to the conversion of commander aircraft to passenger configuration. He was then directed to go to Florida.
In Florida, Toleafoa had put theory into practice by flying the aircraft to ensure it met the performance capability for airline service. Now that everything was in line, Toleafoa came to a conclusion to resign from Polynesian Airline to allow for his time and focus to bring his vision and dream to reality.
“The significant challenge for me in starting an airline is the issue of economic and finances of the airline,” he explained. “I needed expertise in this area and it was about this time I faced that challenge when I heard the news of my former C.E.O. and colleague's resignation Taua Fatu Tielu announced. As a result of his availability, naturally his skills in this area was an obvious option for my wife and I to consider asking him to come on board.”
According to Toleafoa, after consultation with Taua. he had asked him why he did not tell him about his plans when they were in Polynesian Airline.
In response; “you give some you keep some”. After a few laughs Taua accepted and became a partner. With him on board they began the challenge of aviation legal requirements to achieve the certification of the airline.
It involved a complex and time consuming period of 18 months to get certification locally and from foreign aviation authorities. Toleafoa said the challenges could only be overcome “by total commitment and focus in a way a tunnel vision approached; neither looking back nor looking sideways to achieve our goal.”
Next on the list was bringing in the aircrafts from Florida to Samoa. Tole’afoa being a pilot, the considerable cost to transport the aircraft inland was avoided by taking up the challenge of flying the two aircrafts himself. “This challenge to fly the two aircrafts from Florida to Samoa totaling 15,000miles became also an opportunity to train and gain required experience and be able to train other pilots in due cause for the airline,” he said.
“The successful transportation of two aircrafts to Samoa was achieved with the first aircraft I flew from Florida to Samoa via Hawaii and Christmas Island in February. The second aircraft via Hawaii direct to Samoa in March this year.”
Having two aircrafts in Samoa was a requirement to complete the local certification and a step to achieving the international approval to permit the airline to operate to our foreign destination.
In achieving all this it was then a matter of waiting for overseas permits which the company gain in the beginning of July.
“(It) concludes a very difficult and marathon process to allow us to launch and operate Talofa Airways,” said Toleafoa.
As for the name of the company it was decided by Toleafoa and his wife.
While they came up with different names they settled for Talofa which is “a unique Samoan greeting which carries the identity of the island nation of Samoa and a marketable word in web use in airline business.
“As an airline pilot of 20 years experience flying in the Pacific region I became aware of the need of a more economical flying service that’s sustainable and to the benefit of the traveling public in particularly the isolated communities in the Pacific region.”
Toleafoa added that this was a major motivation to establish Talofa Airways.
“You may wonder the size of the airplane we are proposing to use for our regional service but because of the need of sustainability this time we believe we have made the right choice in aircrafts into the immediate future. At this stage of current air service within our region size does not matter.”
Talofa Airways has two Twin Commanders; a nine seater aircraft.
Asked how much he has invested in the airline, Toleafoa said too much.
“I’m not going to say any numbers but its quite significant amount,” he said.
“Competition is normal and always scary but its good for traveling public and people running airline as it gives us the opportunity to improve on what needs to be improved and move on from there.”
The airline is also planning flights from Tonga.
The C.E.O. said they are still waiting for the permit from the neighbouring island nation.
“We plan to start Tonga before the end of the year with same airplane but will operate from Faleolo to Vavau, Tonga which is an 1hour and 15minutes fly.”
The airline is launching its operation in Pagopago today.
It will start its operation next Tuesday in Fagali’I and Faleolo airport to Pagopago.
Toleafoa and his wife together with Taua Fatu Tielu and his wife are shareholders of the airline.
The airline has already employed 20 staffs here and three more in Pagopago.
Agamalu Westerlund and Maxine Gallagher Field cut the ribbon to official open the doors of the aircraft.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi gave a keynote address. Cabinet Minister, government officials and relatives of the company shareholders were there to witness the launching yesterday.