Samoa Airways applies for new certifications

Samoa Airways has taken the first step towards obtaining international certification that would allow it to begin flying to new  international destinations.

Late last month the Minister for Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Selafi Purcell, said the national carrier planned to acquire new aircraft and take over two new international routes by year's end: Nadi and Honolulu. 

The Minister did not specify precisely the kind of plane the airline would seek but said it would be from the Aerei da Trasporto Regionale (A.T.R.) manufacturer. 

But the airline currently lacks certification to operate a plane of that size, having only an Air Taxi Operating Certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority. 

“[They] would need to upgrade its certificate to Air Transport, and there is a lot of work involved in that process,” former Polynesian Airlines General Manager Grant Percival explained.

“You need the certificate called ‘Part 121 Air Operators Certificate’ to operate any aircraft above 5700 kg. The A.T.R. aircrafts are above 21000 [kilograms]

"The isolation of Samoa means we have to meet a higher standard than European airlines operating similar aircrafts. An engine failure in the Pacific is a long way from an aerodrome. You do not want anything but competence."

Mr. Percival stressed the application process would be exhaustive and successfully passing it would reflect the technical abilities of Samoa Airways’ crew. 

But Magale Hoe Viali, the C.E.O. of the  Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.) said the national carrier has initiated the process for upgrading international certifications, including one that would allow it to operate an aircraft larger even than those made by A.T.R.

The airline currently leases its plane from Malaysian-headquartered Malindo Air, a deal which includes the necessary certification. 

“[The application will be for] a bigger Part 121 aircraft similar to the current leased B737-800 from Malindo Air,” said Magele. 

“Samoa Airways’ current biggest aircraft in our Register is a Twin Otter (D.H.C.6.), it is only a Part 125 Air Operator.

“We have already commenced our Part 121 works with Samoa Airways, but if it manages to acquire a A.T.R. aircraft sooner, it will be just be a matter of customizing its Part 121 to enable the operations of an A.T.R. and any jet aircraft it can source later.”

One issue left unclarified is whether the airline would be seeking to purchase outright or lease an aircraft to service the Apia-Nadi route. 

Mr. Percival said the outright acquisition of an aircraft would make more financial sense for the airline.

But a Samoa Airways spokeswoman had no further comment when asked further about the plans to acquire new operating certificates.

Nor would the airline comment on the likely price of expanding its fleet.

In 2016, P.N.G. Air signed a contract of nearly US$134 million to buy five A.T.R. 72-600 airplanes, or approximately about US26 million per plane, according to figures published by A.T.R.

Advertisements listed in the same year suggest that the planes would range in price from $53 million tala to $70 million tala, depending on which model of the plane was bought: the 42-600 with a lesser distance capacity or the 72-600, which is capable of reaching flying greater distances. 

“Commercial values of aircraft aren’t disclosed due to confidentiality,” the spokeswoman said. 

Lautafi did not respond to a request for comment. 

The expansion strategy comes after the national carrier was recently revealed to be the nation’s least profitable public enterprise of the nation, operating at a loss of $21 million last financial year. 

The airline has been hit hard by the grounding of the Boeing grounding, following crashes in Africa and Indonesia.

“It is important to note that the airline is battling with significant global events (such as the Coronavirus outbreak, [the] Measles epidemic and [the] MAX grounding), which have all had an effect on the airline and are unprecedented and outside [the] control of the airline,” the Samoa Airways spokeswoman said. 

“All decisions regarding fleet and expansion will be managed through a formal planning and assessment process.”

The Boeing grounding took effect shortly before the airline was expected to take receipt of the new grounded 737 Max model and was forced to hurriedly arrange a lease, in a market which the Wall Street Journal reported was hit by price rises of up to 40 per cent, as carriers with affected fleets sought replacements. 


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