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Samoa Airways in "desperate" position, negotiations continue

The grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft model globally caught out Samoa Airways, putting the national airline in a “desperate” position.

The airline’s chairman, Fe’esago Siaosi Fepulea’i, told the Samoa Observer in an interview at his residence Saturday that the new Samoa Airways Boeing 737 MAX 9 would have arrived today.

But aircraft’s commissioning was scrapped by the Samoa Government following the tragic crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 on March 10, killing all 157 people onboard.

Fe’esago said the airline now finds itself in a precarious position.

“We have been caught in a very serious situation, as a result of the global grounding of all the Boeing 737 MAX 9, yet our airplane should have arrived today. 

“We were supposed to sign off on it, the plane has already been branded and all of this is going down the drain,” he said. 

Due to the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 aircraft models, there is now a worldwide shortage of narrow-body aircraft as airlines scramble to meet demands. 

“That is why we’re having a hard time negotiating and if we did find one, the cost has skyrocketed – everything is at a premium now – the normal demand and supply. They know the situation we are in, we are desperate,” he added. 

Fe’esago said Samoa Airways is making the best of available resources. 

“What we have to do is to wait and see. In the meantime, we have to make the best of what is available – we have been dealing with different airlines – to find an airline we can work with. Basically that is where we are at the moment.” 

Samoa Airways’ lease with Italian charter airline NEOS expires March 31 with the national airline entering into negotiations with NEOS to extend its lease by another two weeks, due to the global grounding of the Boeing MAX aircraft model. 

“The lease wills NEOS was to be extended for another two weeks. Unfortunately, with what happened, led to ground of some of their fleets, and they want to take back their plane to undergo thorough check.” 

Previously, when Samoa Airways routes were affected, an Air Nauru aircraft was leased and passengers were diverted to Air New Zealand. 

Fe’esago indicated that the same could be done: “We will do the same at this moment.”

When he was asked how much it will cost the airline, he said: “All I can say it is expensive, I can’t tell you. First of all, I don’t know how long this will go for. How can I say it is a month to month lease when we don’t know how long the MAX 8 and MAX 9 will be grounded?”

Asked about the financial viability of Samoa Airways to fund the short term leases (weekly or monthly), Fe’esago was optimistic. 

“The setting up of the Samoa Airways, the Samoan government has not given us one sene. 

“Our operation in American Samoa over the last 12 years has been profitable, and that is what we used to set up the airline. And under the current circumstances due to the global grounding of MAX 8 we will probably have to go to the Government. 

“We have to work on it and eventually we will have to. 

“They are the shareholder, but we have never asked them to put money in and we are still using Samoa Airways funds. They guaranteed the loan with UTOS for $15 million and so we’re going to need more money given the circumstances,” he said.  

In the meantime, Samoa Airways issued a press statement Saturday advising they are close to finalising arrangements to lease a Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft from Malaysian carrier Malindo Air.

The aircraft will operate its flights between Apia, Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane.

"The 737-800NG is the same aircraft type that our Italian operator, NEOS used for Samoa Airways flights from November 2017. It has a proven record and is operated by many airlines around the world’, said Samoa Airways CEO, Tupuivao Seiuli Alvin Tuala.

He said they have been working hard to secure a replacement aircraft. 

“Our lease with NEOS couldn’t be extended and with the global grounding of the MAX 8 aircraft, there is a huge worldwide shortage of narrow-body aircraft as airlines scramble to consolidate their schedules using their existing fleets and short-term leases from other operators”, he said.

Samoa Airways and Malindo Air are working closely with the civil aviation authorities of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Samoa to secure the required safety and regulatory approvals, which the carriers anticipate will come through towards the end of the first week of April.

“Safety is of paramount importance to us – and until the clearances have been obtained – we have unfortunately had to cancel some of our flights in the first week of April and re-route our customers on to other airlines operating into Samoa, to minimise any further disruption to their travel plans.

“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and our team is contacting affected customers and our trade partners, to inform them about alternative arrangements as we transition to operating with the replacement aircraft,” he said.

The Malindo Air 737-800NG aircraft is three years old and features 150 Economy Class seats with personal TVs, and 12 seats in Business Class with a generous 45-inch pitch, leg-rest and adjustable footrest, an 11.1-inch touchscreen inflight entertainment monitor, as well as AC and dual USB ports.

The Malaysian airline operates more than 800 weekly flights across South East Asia as well as Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, where it’s a registered foreign air operator with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). The carrier is a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and successfully completed IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certification in 2016 and 2018.

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