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Faleolo International Airport flies into new era in aviation history

Early in the week, the Faleolo International Airport joined an exclusive club of airports in the region — it became one of few in the Pacific Islands to have an apron and three aerobridges.

The official commissioning of the new facilities this week at Samoa’s international gateway marked a new chapter in the country’s aviation history. 

Finally, passengers can expect to have quality air travel experience when flying into and out of Samoa, thanks to the addition of these new airport features. 

And for a nation that is so dependent on revenue generated by the tourism dollar, it is critically important that the Government built or upgraded transport infrastructure such as an airport to ensure it is modern and meets international standards. 

Therefore credit should go to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi and his Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) Government, for the vision behind the project, which started in November 2015 and cost about $140 million tala. Not forgetting the role of development partners in the Chinese government and the World Bank, both provided critical funding for the redevelopment work. 

The Faleolo International Airport redevelopment work comprises three phases. Phase 1 saw the construction of a passenger departure lounge with state-of-art checkin technology, flight information displays, public address and information integration systems, and space for passengers, duty free shopping, restaurants and cafes. Phase 2 is the construction of a new arrival lounge, and Phase 3 is the building of new public areas and airport businesses. 

Chinese government-run state company Shanghai Construction Group was the contractor of the airport redevelopment work, with its project manager Linjie Shi telling the Samoa Observer last year that the size of the terminal will increase from 5,500 square meters to about 12,000 square meters. The increase will enable the airport to cater for up to 600,000 passengers annually with maximum passenger flow volume of 300 per hour.

The figures are very impressive — and when compared to other airports in the region — it places Samoa up right up there with the best, in terms of passenger in/out flows.

Even the design of the airport terminal is unique, and represents the style of the traditional Samoan Fale and the sea. The terminal apron upgrade was funded by the World Bank and procured under the Samoa Aviation Investment Project, costing US$19 million ($50 million tala) over a nine-month period.

We also cannot overlook the significance of the new apron and the aerobridges, which now improves mobility of people-living-with-a-disability, and upon its opening enabled the country to tick that box on inclusivity. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa did not forget the major boost to disability access — when getting on an aircraft or disembarking from one — in his speech at the airport on Tuesday. 

“The aerobridges and associated improvements on the terminal have dramatically improved accessibility for those with special needs and the wider travelling public,” he said.

“It also enhances passenger experience especially by providing shelter from the hot sun and the pouring rain.

“Today, as we now witness the two new projects completed and ready to be used by the travelling public — and it is with pride that our people, the Samoans — can travel to any airport in the world with the knowledge that we too, have aerobridges at our international airport.”

And now that we have set the yardstick in the region, as one of the Pacific’s few modern airports with state-of-the-art technology and quality customer service, the challenge is now on us to maintain these facilities and services through an effective Government-funded maintenance programme and rigorous training of Samoa Airport Authority staff. The Authority has to ensure its staff are up to date with the changing technology and increasing customer service demands.

In November 2016, the Prime Minister spoke of the Authority’s long-term vision to become the regional hub of air travel, and the Government’s hope that more airlines will use the Faleolo International Airport to boost tourism, trade and transport for Samoa.

His speech back then did not only put the Samoa Airport Authority on notice, but also the relevant Government agencies in the Samoa Tourism Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Works Transport and Infrastructure, and the national airline Samoa Airways.

The country should see the benefits over the long-term period from such a massive investment. The airport redevelopment work was financed in part by a US$31.7 million concessional loan from China and a $50 million tala loan from the World Bank. Therefore, it is now up to the above mentioned entities to make it happen, to ensure this investment will reap benefits for the country and its people going forward — with the Government now servicing these debts. 

The Prime Minister, in his speech on Tuesday, had a message for citizens.

“We Samoans should embrace and appreciate this landmark achievement to welcome our people and the world to Samoa.”

We could not agree more, and look forward to the people of Samoa and our friends and visitors, benefiting from this new chapter in the country’s aviation history. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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