Government’s Nadi flights decision defies logic

The Government’s decision to close the Apia Nadi flight route in a bid to get more people to travel with Samoa Airways is confusing.

The question that immediately comes to mind is this; what is it with Samoa Airways as an international airline that this Government is prepared to bend all rules and be so ruthless in its approach? Unless they are really that desperate, which they appear to be?

The story on the front page of the Weekend Observer under the headline “Cabinet halting Apia-Nadi flights” is mind-blowing stuff. From where we stand today, all we know is that Cabinet has endorsed the decision according to a confidential Cabinet paper, FK(20)6, signed by the Secretary to Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo.

We also know that the Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Fio Purcell, has been tasked by Cabinet to discuss the new arrangement with Fiji Airways and he was in Fiji with a government delegation for this purpose.

It would be very interesting to hear what he has to say about this. So let’s wait.

In the meantime, speaking as a member of the committee appointed by Cabinet to oversee the finances of the Samoa Airways, Leasiosiofa'asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, said the decision is all for the sake of Samoa Airways.

“We are doing everything possible to support our national airline and it is in our best interest to support our airline. And the government will provide that support,” said Leasiosio. “If we don’t force ourselves to make that change then it’s just talk, and we’re not fully supporting our airline. The move to suspend [flights] or forcing all government officials to use the Auckland Samoa airways sector it’s all in support of the national airline.”

Okay then. Is it surprising? Probably not. The abrupt, “urgent” and the uncompromising nature of the decision against Fiji Airways is not unusual.

They did this in 2017 with Virgin Australia on their way to reviving Polynesian Airlines international operations under Samoa Airways. Yes we are talking about Virgin Samoa, the joint venture that was earning Samoa millions of tala in dividends every year, until the Government decided to kick them out.

Fiji Airways is in a slightly different category. While it is not bringing in money as much as Virgin Samoa was it terms of dividends, it was providing a critical link between Samoa and other major global destinations. This includes the American and North American market, which the Samoa Tourism Authority was looking to develop and explore in a bid to attract more tourists to Samoa.

Keep in mind that many Samoans residing in Australia had grown quite comfortable and fond of using the Nadi-Faleolo connection to get to Samoa, whether they were flying in from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or wherever in Australia.

And let’s not forget that as of today, whether some people would admit to it or not, Fiji remains the hub of the Pacific in most things. It is where most of the regional and global organisations are based and as such it is where most of the meetings take place. These meetings happen every week, month in and month out.

More importantly perhaps is the fact that in Suva is where the majority of Samoan tertiary students study at the University of the South Pacific.

Now all of a sudden, the Government cuts this critical route.

Think of the inconvenience and headaches for the travelling public?

Think of the extra cost in terms of airfares, visas and everything else that comes with having to travel to Auckland to get to Fiji? Think of the impact on the tourism industry?

We simply cannot understand the logic behind the grand plan to cancel the Samoa-Fiji route. We also hope the Government has done its due diligence.

Who was consulted about this? Did they bother asking members of the traveling public at all? Did they consult the tourism industry? Did they talk to the aviation sector? Was Fiji Airways offered an opportunity to provide their views? There are so many questions.

Perhaps someone in the Government needs to sit down and tell the people of this country what is going on and what exactly it is they are trying to achieve.

From where we stand, we just cannot make sense of this.

What we do know is that as proud Samoans, we all want Samoa Airways to be successful. We want the airline to be profitable and grow. We want more and more people to fly with the country’s national carrier.

But that has to be done right. The Government has got to be strategic and clinical in its thinking. It has got to take calculated risks to ensure its goals are achieved.

Is that happening today? Is the “urgent” decision to cancel the Fiji-Samoa route strategic and calculated? You be the judge.

Business-wise, Fiji Airways would be disappointed but in the grand scheme of things and a thriving international airline with bigger fish to fry, they probably wouldn’t lose sleep over it. Like Virgin Australia, Samoa needs them more than they need us.

Ultimately, this will end up costing the poor submissive taxpayers of this country even more. They are the ones who will have to foot the bill as a result of these ad-hoc decisions that lack basic sense.

But then what do we know? Isn’t this Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Government that is full of laui’a? Have safe Sunday Samoa, God bless!












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