New $14m Ti'avea Airport to cater for 'emergency landings'
The Government’s new $14 million tala airport in Ti’avea will be mainly used for “emergency landing”, says the Minister for Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang.
In an interview with the Samoa Observer, the Minister explained that the Government's plans are to continue utilising the Fagali’i Airport, which will soon come under the management of the Samoa Airport Authority.
“The main purpose of the Ti’avea Airport is for emergency landing during bad weather as it is close to Pago, and in any case, the airplanes can land in Ti’avea," he said.
There are plans to have flights directed to Ti’avea once a week to cater for Aleipata residents, but the flights will continue to operate out of Fagali’i.
But the Minister also revealed an issue which could complicate the construction of the project, with the Government discovering that the area currently slated for the landing strip is on swampland after it was already environmentally assessed.
In May this year a memorandum of agreement and a deed of settlement was signed between the Government and the families who gave up their land for the new airport.
The Minister said the Ministry had an environmental assessment done on the land, but they did not discover until later it was built on swampland.
The airport building and project is currently projected to cost $10 million while $4 million is compensation for the 26 acres of land belonging to 11 Ti’avea families.
Asked as to how much the additional reclamation cost will be, the Minister was unaware but said: "The Government is proceeding no matter what the cost, because we need this airport.”
When the Ti’avea Airport was first announced, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi referenced two plane crashes in the past, which he said could have been avoided if there was an airport at Aleipata.
“The plane crashed due to bad weather,” he said at the time. “Now if there was an airport in the area where the project is now underway, there wouldn’t be any crash. History tends to repeat itself and this is why this project is vital.”
The Prime Minister also justified the need for an airport at Tiavea, saying it is critical in terms of the Government’s future plans.
He said the market for travellers to and from American Samoa will only expand and the Government needs to be proactive in terms of preparations for it.
Going back to the Fagali’i Airport, the Minister said the S.A.A. will take over the Fagali’i Airport as soon as possible.
Papali’I said the main reason for the S.A.A. takeover is safety.
“Security is lacking at the Fagali’i Airport and as an International Airport, there are standards that should be adhered, but that is not the case.”
The Minister spoke of his firsthand experience: "I went to Pago last month and after checking in, I went into the terminal the Immigration agent was not at the desk.
"I went into the terminal and waited. The point is, once you cross the security line of an international airport the agents should be there to process your travel documents. This airport is being treated as a domestic airport."