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The benefits of closing Fagali’i Airport for travellers

The Samoa government has announced the closure of the Fagali’i International Airport.

The announcement by the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali'i Niko Lee Hang, will bring to a close another chapter in Samoa’s aviation history.

Minister Papali'i told the Samoa Observer the aerodrome will be handed over to the Ministry of Police, who will convert it into a test driving range and a hub for vehicle registration and inspection.

“The airport will be closed down if not the end of the year it’ll be the beginning of 2020," he said.  

“All the flights will be operated out of the Faleolo International Airport."

Failure by the Fagali’i Airport to meet international security and safety standards, were the major factors behind the government’s decision to close it, according to the Minister.

"The Fagali’i Airport has failed to meet international standards and for safety reasons it must be closed down and handed over to the Ministry of Police."

We welcome the decision by the government and the Minister to put the welfare and the safety of Samoa’s travelling public first – before the convenience of passengers due to the airstrip’s  location within the country’s capital.

In fact the relocation to Faleolo International Airport of the domestic and international travel services, which were previously offered through Fagali’i Airport, would make sense for an avid traveller. With a lot of American Samoa residents using Faleolo as their international gateway to fly to different destinations around the world, the ease of transiting at an airport using the same immigration and security processing systems – without the need to exit the aerodrome facility – saves travellers time and cuts out unnecessary cost.

It was only seven months ago when the government unveiled major upgrading work at Faleolo. These included an expansion of the airport apron from 31,000 squares to 45,000 square meters and the installation of aerobridges. 

The airport apron upgrade was funded through finance provided by the World Bank to the tune of over $50 million tala and the purchase and installation of the aerobridges was funded by the Chinese government at a cost of $4.7 million tala. 

Therefore, with the Samoa government securing funding for both projects in a bid to upgrade the country’s main aviation international gateway, it makes sense giving both domestic and international travellers access to the improved facilities at Faleolo, not to mention the duty free shops as well as tourist-focused booths.

There is also the added benefit of having both Customs and Immigration checks done at the same aerodrome, without the government having to incur additional costs for maintaining offices and officials stationed at both Fagali’i and Faleolo.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi in May this year praised the upgrades at Faleolo, saying it would enhance passengers’ travel experience.

“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.”

But the above should not be the only benefits, as the decision to relocate the services previously offered at Fagali’i to Faleolo now opens the door to Samoa potentially signing what aviation officials call the One Stop Security (OSS) security arrangement, with a neighbouring state. 

An OSS is a mutual agreement between two parties to accept security screening rules at airports, which would enable passengers and baggage originating from one destination to be transferred to a connecting flight without being subject to another security check. 

Major airports around the world have such arrangements which aviation experts say “increases the efficiency of airline and airport operations”. 

And lastly we suggest the government considers building a heliport at the Fagali’i Airport as the soon-to-be-decommissioned aerodrome is in a strategic location, with close proximity to the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital (TTM) at Motootua and the National Police Headquarters in town. 

The Fagali’i heliport will come in handy during medical emergencies and even special Police operations, especially at this time when millions of tala worth of contraband have been discovered, confirming that drug smugglers have set their eyes on Samoa becoming a transit point for their illicit cargo.

Have a wonderful Friday Samoa and God bless.

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