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Samoa Airways caught between a rock and a hard place

The national carrier, Samoa Airways predicament in terms of finding an aircraft, proves just how unpredictable the airline and aviation industry can be. 

It is also a timely reminder to the powers that be, in this case the Government and the officials running the airline, about the importance of forward planning and making sure there is always a plan B when plan A falls apart. 

Now let’s see. It was only two weeks ago that everything looked pretty awesome when the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell, who is also the Minister of Samoa Airways, spoke with such enthusiasm about their plans.

A story titled “Minister reveals Samoa Airways plans” published in the Sunday Samoan reflected a rather optimistic Lautafi confirming their plan to acquire two aircrafts this year. 

One of them was supposed to have been a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft scheduled to arrive this weekend. A second aircraft is scheduled to touch down in August; the first step in the airline’s plan to target other markets outside the routes its already flying to.

“That is the luxury of having two aircrafts is we can look at other destinations,” said the Minister.  “We can look at Melbourne, Wellington and Tonga and all those other destinations. We will have it fully crewed by Samoans – from the pilot to co-pilot and crew members – and they will be trained for that.”

Now who doesn’t get excited about this stuff? As proud Samoans, we all want what is best for Samoa and there is no doubt that the Airline’s expansion plan is an exciting time for everyone.

But that was two weeks ago. A lot can happen in such a time period and in the case of Samoa Airways it has.

Enter the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the domino effect it has had on the industry where all airlines around the world have suspended their Boeing Max operations and Samoa Airways has suddenly found itself in a very rough spot. 

With the Government opting not to go ahead with the commissioning of the Boeing Max 9 over safety fears and the wet lease with Italian Airline Neos, from where the 737-800 aircraft is leased, expiring, things have quickly changed so that today, there are genuine concerns about the viability of flights in the coming weeks.

On Friday, the Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Fio Purcell, issued a reassurance that the Government has a "short term plan" beyond today when Air Neos 737-800 aircraft is returned with their pilots and crew.

"There is no need to worry, we have prepared other aircrafts to accommodate the flights for now, in the short term, while we work on our long term plans for another aircraft,” he said.

The Minister explained that Samoa Airways has made arrangements with Qantas Airways for an aircraft to service the Airline’s Australian routes – which include Sydney and Brisbane. He said another aircraft, which he did not name the carrier, would be servicing the Apia Auckland New Zealand route.

Contacted for a comment, Samoa Airways Marketing Manager, Dwayne Bentley, did not respond right away.

But as the piece you are reading was being compiled yesterday, a press release from Samoa Airways arrived in the mail. It revealed that the Airline is now talking to Malaysian carrier, Malindo Air, to lease a Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft, for the interim.

The press release quotes Samoa Airways’ C.E.O., Tupuivao Seiuli Tuala as saying 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.

 “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.”

Well we wish Seiuli and his team at Samoa Airways all the best as they try to pick up the pieces. Truth be told, it is always a nice feeling when you are travelling through Auckland, Sydney or Brisbane to see Samoa Airways’ lone aircraft sitting among big birds bearing the names of the countries where they belong.

But what’s happening today again proves the point about the fickle nature of the aviation industry – which all airlines must prepare for. Let’s hope Samoa Airways made some allowances for this kind of scenario. 

Interestingly, in all this talk, there is not one mention of how much this will cost the airline, where the money will come from and whether the airline is in a position to be able to afford to absorb all these costs. Only time will tell.

All the more reasons we look forward to seeing the financial statements for the airline’s first year of operations, which have remained a mystery until this day. Still, stay tuned!

In the meantime, have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

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