Travel restrictions hurt Talofa Airways
Travel restrictions imposed by American Samoa due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced a privately-owned airline to seek a waiver arrangement from their financial commitments.
The American Samoa Department of Health this week issued a travel advisory suspending all scheduled flights for Talofa Airways from the territory to Tonga.
In addition, the travel advisory says all charter flights from Talofa Airways and Samoa Airways will be denied entry into American Samoa until further notice.
The disruption means the privately owned airline had to lay off some workers while the rest that are still on payroll had their working days reduced.
“The impact is substantial on the business,” says Talofa Airways spokesperson and shareholder, Taua Fatu Tielu, during an interview with the Samoa Observer.
“We had to make requests to waive payments for our accounts for another four to five months...payments for loans at the banks, the airport for landing fees and other expenses, N.P.F., taxes and other fees.”
Taua said the company had also made a request to the Government for help on an economic relief to assist businesses.
He hopes the call for help will be responded to with a favourable answer during the financially difficult time for the private sector.
“It’s been really tough and we had to reduce our staff and reduced working hours for others,” he explained.
“Our bookings have dropped to over 50 per cent and sometimes that number has reached 90 per cent.”
Taua pointed out the travel restriction imposed by American Samoa is hurting the airline and they have asked for a chance to increase their flights.
“We had some travelers in Europe that booked their flights [to Tonga] since July last year and now we had to tell them the new restrictions means they have to cancel,” he said.
“I know we can’t really do anything with the travel advisory but it is discouraging to travelers with many others cancelling due to it.
“This is because the advisory says that people have to be quarantine in Apia for 14 days and its discouraging people who don’t have the time to be quarantined for that long.”
A travel advisory from American Samoa states that people from the territory going to Samoa and beyond Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga and returning have to spend 14 days in Samoa.
Furthermore, it is also required to acquire a health clearance from Ministry of Health in three days before entry.
Asked to give an estimate of how much the company has loss due to the recent disruption, Taua said its substantial.
“I haven’t calculated the costs but its substantial,” he said.
“We are just hoping that [COVID-19] it will just go away soon rather than later.
“For the meantime we are trying to stay afloat.”