Repatriation flight demand strong: Air New Zealand
Demand for repatriation flights from Auckland to Apia remains strong despite a total of 1700 passengers being returned to Samoa on the trips since they started in May, Air New Zealand says.
The Government recently shifted from having weekly repatriation flights to having those that leave every three week.
The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, said the change was prompted by a lack of passenger demand for the flights, exposing Samoa to unnecessary risk.
"The Cabinet is looking at these repatriation flights and observing that they have not been full. The people who wanted to come did not check-in," he said in late July.
“It is not a good thing for us to give chances to their cries saying they want to return, they process their papers and when it's time they change their minds."
But on Friday a spokeswoman for Air New Zealand said there continues to be "strong" demand for the Auckland-Apia route and a backlog of passengers seeking to make the journey home to Samoa from New Zealand.
"We are working closely with the Samoan Government to prioritise the backlog of registered passengers and we are contacting those registered passengers directly once we are able to confirm their travel back home,” the spokeswoman said.
While the first few flights to come into Samoa were reported to carry as few as 140 passengers, the most recent flights have recorded passenger numbers as high as 300.
Even after the repatriation flight in three weeks time, there will "remain a backlog of passengers”, the Air New Zealand spokeswoman said.
In total, an estimated 10 repatriation flights from Auckland have landed in Samoa so far.
"There continues to be strong demand for our repatriation flights, and we have now returned over 1,700 stranded Samoan residents since 29 May," Bowerman wrote in an email in response to questions from this newspaper.