Samoa Airways Chairman optimistic
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the Government made the right decision to revive international flights for Samoa through its own airline, Samoa Airways.
That’s the opinion of the Chairman of Samoa Airways, Fe’esago Siaosi Fepulea’i, who is adamant that despite the challenges encountered by the national carrier – including the airline being without an aircraft for part of this week – the future is bright.
During an interview with the Chairman at his residence, he told the Samoa Observer it took “guts” to start Samoa Airways, reviving the international operations of the old Polynesian Airlines.
“The previous arrangements with overseas airlines felt like Samoa was once again under colonial rule,” the 83-year-old Chairman said, referring to a joint venture between the Government and Virgin Australia.
“The passion to revive Samoa Airways quickly reminds how our forefathers fought for the freedom we are now enjoying. I salute and applaud them, despite the lack of education; the blood and sweat of our forefathers speaks volume.
“Their determination, passion and patriotism led Samoa to where it is now.”
Fe’esago acknowledged that criticisms of the Government’s decision at the start were warranted, given the history of Polynesian Airlines.
But that was then. Today is different, he insists.
“We learn from our mistakes and we move on,” he said. “At the time of the first airline, the Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, Churches and their Reverends, organizations were flying to New Zealand without any airfares.
“They were supposed to repay the airline upon return but never did. That practice led the closing down of the then Polynesian Airlines.”
Polynesian Airlines international operations slowly disappeared replaced by Virgin Blue, which later became Virgin Samoa, in 2005.
Still the desire was there for Samoa to get back into international flights with its own flag carrier, the Chairman said.
In 2016, a Scoping and Feasibility Study for International Jet Services was conducted and released in 2017. Fe’esago said this changed everything.
“I appeared before Cabinet over this study and I read out bits and pieces of the report and for the first time ever, I felt that we were once again under colonial rule.
“They were milking money from us, with their expensive airfares, both airlines; they were making millions from our people.”
It was from there that motivated the Government to do something.
“There was no way we would continue down this path, with the unfair treatment we were getting from the joint venture. They took advantage of us,” he said.
The start was not easy with the Chairman noting that not all Cabinet Ministers were on board with the idea.
Still they persisted and in six months, Samoa Airways was born.
“The minimum time to set up an Airline, you need at least eight months to 24 months to get it going. But we did not wait and of course that costs us a lot of money, but it had to be done.”
Prior to the launch of Samoa Airways, Polynesian Airlines operations between Samoa and American Samoa was profitable. It made very good profits, money which was used to start up Samoa Airways.
The rest as they say is history.
Looking back today, despite some challenges along the way, Chairman Fe’esago is adamant the Government made the right decision.
“Our forefathers did not fight for our freedom for us to go back to this,” he said about the previous joint venture arrangement. He said when the government announced the cancellation of the joint venture; Virgin Australia tried to get the Australian government involved.
“The Prime Minister adamantly told them no. We will not be bullied into anything and that to me; took a lot of guts.
“Too bad for them, they picked on the wrong guy. The Prime Minister stood his ground. Only those with guts can turn down threats from a big government and that’s exactly what we did.”
The Chairman is realistic about the future and accepts that there is still a lot of work to be done. But it is doable, he believes.
“That’s what being Samoan is all about, we are determined and passionate to go after what is right, fair and beneficial for the betterment of our people.”
The Chairman concluded with a reminder to Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration, Members of Parliament, the Airline’s Managers, officials, staff and Board members.
“This is the country’s airline,” he said, “and we should pay (our fares) like everyone else. This is the only way to succeed in this venture.”