New plane, routes for Samoa Airways

Samoa Airways says is planning to invest in a bigger aircraft and expand the range of destinations it flies to, the Minister for Public Enterprise has revealed. 

The airline's short-haul flights are currently conducted by two smaller planes travelling between Samoa and regional airports; Lautafi Fio Purcell, said during Parliamentary proceedings on Friday there were plans to replace both with a single, larger plane.

"There are plans in place for a bigger aircraft [...] with [capacity for] 50 passengers and [to] remove the two smaller aircraft, which have been in service for a while," Lautafi said.

"Those are the plans looking ahead, so we can fly within the region, from here to Tonga, Fiji, Tokelau and others."

Lautafi, who is also the Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, said the national carrier had several plans in the pipeline but appealed to the public for patience and support during a recently tumultuous period. 

"There was a large impact during the measles epidemic with the amount of travellers," he said.

"The money used to operate the aircraft is money from our people's airfares. If no one is on the plane, then there's no money.

"That is the truth, it is as simple as I can put it, and that is why we need your patience and whatever may need improvement in our service, it's easy, just call us. 

"Once you know something is going on, let us know, do not wait until one, two, three months, has passed so that it is easier for us to address at the time."

The Samoa Tourism Authority confirmed a significant drop in tourism numbers for the final quarter of this year last week due to cancellations associated with the measles epidemic. 

The airline was also hit hard after a Boeing MAX plane it had leased was affected by the March grounding of faulty Boeing aircraft, forcing it into a hastily arranged "wet lease" with Malaysian carrier Malindo. 

The Minister also responded to issues raised by members of parliament regarding delays to scheduled flights by saying that the airline faces a lot of operational obstacles.

These include meeting aviation standards and requirements; unforeseeable circumstance; and using one aircraft to service international routes, the Minister said. 

Lautafi said the aircraft's most significant delay took place in Australia after a plane's tyre was punctured unexpectedly by a foreign object on the tarmac of the runway at Sydney International Airport. 

"[Authorities] are investigating the matter as to how it even got there in the first place," he said.

"But the situation caused a two hour delay because they were changing the tyre, and from that single delay, there [was] a domino effect causing delays to all the other flights.

"The hard part about it is that we only have one plane."

Lautafi agreed with comments made by other M.P.s that Samoa needs another aircraft, saying he shared their aspirations.

"But the problem is, it's not a $100,000 item," he said.

"We have to analyse, explore available options for us to acquire another aircraft but it is something we are working towards, searching options that we can afford."

Samoa Airways aims to have two or three aircraft, the Minister said, but emphasised that achieving the goal would take time. 

Company financial statements showed that Samoa Airways jet operations ran at a loss of $6.64 million  during the October-December quarter of the 2018-19 Financial Year. 

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