Border closure delays new Samoa Airways aircraft

The Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, says international border closures have further delayed the delivery of a new Samoa Airways aircraft that had been planned to arrive in July.

Lautafi, who is also the Minister responsible for Samoa Airways, told the Samoa Observer that the delivery is now likely to be postponed for several months due to the difficulties of transporting goods during coronavirus restrictions. 

“We are still negotiating with the airline leasing company [to secure] the best option for bringing the aircraft [here], taking into account the current border situation with our main destinations,” he said. 

“It is most likely the delivery will be postponed for a few more months until we agree on a good deal.”

The national carrier has been without an aircraft since March this year, when the Government ended its lease with the Malaysian headquartered Malindo Air as international flights grounded to a halt as the global pandemic peaked.

Last month, Lautafi told the Parliament that the Government was planning a new lease of a Boeing 737-800 from Norway. The aircraft was in Amsterdam at the time and was expected to arrive in the country in late July to early August. 

It is understood the aircraft will be leased from the firm Fokker Techniek M.R.O., a leading aircraft maintenance and completion company based in Woensdrecht, the Netherlands.  

Lautafi said the Government was now able to secure it on a much reduced rate and assured the new plane was much cheaper than the rates charged for the Malindo Air aircraft.

“They may say there are now many planes available but it's not as easy as that," he said in Parliament.

"We looked for a plane that is suitable for us, not an old plane.

"A plane that can [be secured under a] dry lease agreement so our [own people can be utilised,” he said.

A dry lease involves a company taking just the aircraft and not the accompanying cabin crew. Under the terms of the lease with Malindo Air, by contrast, the Government had a “wet lease” arrangement in which the plane came with its cabin crew.

“Most of our airline employees have been put on leave until another time, those who are directly affected, while the others are still working on half a pay,” the Minister said. 

Lautafi revealed that the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet and the Australian bushfires at the beginning of the year had an impact on the Australian market. 

The Boeing MAX fleet was grounded after crashes in Africa and Indonesia raised questions about the aircraft model’s safety. 

Samoa Airways had been scheduled to take receipt of a 737 MAX model just before they were grounded by international authorities for safety reasons. 

The country’s need for three flights a week to Samoa at the time; the measles epidemic; and the COVID-19 global pandemic had presented further complications, the Minister said.  

The M.P. for Anoama’a East, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, told Parliament that the monthly cost of the aircraft lease would be US$254,000 which is $678,000 tala as recorded in the Samoa Polynesian Airlines annual report.

“If it's $254,000 for a monthly lease; I believe it is cheaper than the previous lease we had,” he said. 

“During this time there are ongoing problems faced by airline companies around the world with some facing bankruptcy and [aircraft fleet being] grounded. 

“I believe if the aircraft and its operation is properly managed we will be able to lease another aircraft afterwards once the first one expected in August arrives.”

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