That $17 million “2C aerodrome” at Ti’avea

Seventeen-million-tala later and after all this talk about the Ti’avea Airport needing more money in a bid to make it a possible back up to the Faleolo International Airport, it is news we are told the project is merely a “2C aerodrome.”

 “Ti’avea Airport was never designed or intended to service a Boeing 737-800 aircraft,” the General Manager of the Samoa Airports Authority (S.A.A.), Silimana’i Ueta Solomona Jr, said on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer.

 “As identified in the Authority’s Master Plan and part of Government’s plans to provide Samoa with easy access to all modes of transport, Ti’avea Airport was determined to be a Code 2C aerodrome.

 “For comparison, Faleolo International Airport is a Code 4E aerodrome while ex-Fagalii, Maota and Asau are coded as 2A type aerodromes. These reference codes signify the types of aircrafts which can / cannot use a particular aerodrome.”

We are not aviation experts and we have never professed to be. There are many of them out there, locally and internationally, who will know what all these airport codes mean. But we do remember what was said in the not too distant past about the Tiavea Airport because that is what we do; we are a daily record of history.

As if it wasn’t enough that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi couldn’t stop boasting about the untold windfall in tourism revenues, convenience for the travelling public and why Ti’avea is the Government’s next grand dream, a story titled “Ti'avea to become alternative international airport” published on the front page of the Samoa Observer on 3 April 2020 got everyone excited. In that story, the General Manager Silimanai clearly said that Ti’avea would become Samoa’s alternative international airport.

“The extension of Tiavea came about after initial findings of a report being prepared by a research team from Japan stated an elevated risk of Faleolo being inundated from wave action during cyclones due to its proximity to the sea," Silimana’i said. “Government believes that whilst works are ongoing at Ti’avea, it is the ideal time that the overall airport planning considers an extension to ensure that an alternative is available for continuity of air operations.”

But that wasn’t all. Even the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, has spoken publically about how vital Ti’avea is as an alternative international airport, should something happen to Faleolo as a result of climate change.

 “We are expanding the runaway. There’s anticipation this airport will be used for bigger planes…” Papali’i has said on the record. “The government is also considering the importance of building the airport to international standards right now, because if we wait it will cost more money.”

Let us be reminded that these are not our words. These words came directly from the Government itself and not one of them has disputed them as inaccurate. Which means as far as the public record goes, it is undisputed that the Government has been talking up the Ti’avea project as an international airport.

Based on those claims from the Government, a Samoa Observer investigation focused purely on the length of the runway to test the internationality, if you like, of the Tiavea Airport as it stands.

The outcome was quite short – literally. On the front page of the Weekend Observer last week, a story titled “Ti'avea Airport falls short; makes no sense" revealed that the airport falls short of meeting international length standards required of an international runway. A photographic drone was used to measure the length of the cleared runway at the site and it came up with 956 metres, that’s more than 1.7km short of the distance required at a minimum to land a Boeing 737-800, which is the type of aircraft being used by Samoa’s national carrier, Samoa Airways.

The measurement naturally created a stir with international and locally-based aviation experts expressing concerns. Former General Manager of Polynesian Airlines, Papali’i Grant Percival said the airport “is a bit of land that they made into a super roadway.”

“So the relevance is, why are you spending $17 million on something that can't do anything?” Papali’i said. "It's not equipped to take aeroplanes. It's a bit of land that's been prepared, like putting a road to nowhere. It's technically feasible, [but] is it viable? No. Why are we building a white elephant?"

Former pilot, Phil Meredith, said: "Put simply the airport needs to be as long as Faleolo if they intend to put jet aircraft in there. Also there are no approach aids for instrument flight, no control tower, no rescue crash fire, no jet fuel and no customs or immigration there.

“Basically, the Tiavea airfield makes absolutely no sense to me. It must all be for the political gain of a selected few."

Again, those are not our opinions; these are the views of aviation experts, which the Government conveniently ignored in its response on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer.

So what do we think? Well, in our humble view, $17 million tala and climbing is a lot of money. Isn’t it sad that there are children vendors living on the streets in Samoa today, some families wallowing in poverty and hardship as a result of the tough times brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and yet the Government continues to insist on these “big money small airport” projects?

We have to ask some hard questions. How will this airport improve the lives of people? How will it create wealth and improve the living standards of Samoans? In terms of competing priorities, do we really need it? Do we not live in a country where many people still lack access to basic things like drinking water and affordable health care?

Don’t take us the wrong way but like all other white elephants we’ve seen in the past, this one carries the same promises.  It’s ironic that Tiavea is not far from Satitoa. This same Government wasted a massive $20 million tala on a wharf there with similar promises.

Today, that Satitoa wharf is a shameful reminder about the glorious waste of hard-earned taxpayers monies, which have been literally sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There is an eerily similar feel to that “Ti’avea road to nowhere.”

Let us be reminded today that when certain public officials in positions of power opt to satisfy their whim at the public’s expense, the rest suffer, especially the poorest of the poor. Think about it!

Have a lovely Thursday Samoa, God bless!




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