Airport fanatic

By Enid Westerlund. 01 October 2023, 12:00PM

As I left Fiji Saturday morning, I fly home with a grateful heart. The week in Suva had been productive with many meetings and networking opportunities. Only two more months before 2023 comes to an end and what a year it has been. A year full of opportunities, heartbreaks and learning. When you go through the hardest times, do not remain on that torturous path, hold onto your faith, remember who you are and do what needs to be done. Make the hard decisions and be alright with them.

Airports. What comes to mind when you think of them? Are they just an inconvenience when you travel, a bus stop or do you see them as opportunities to rest, shop and learn? I know airports are some of the most boring places in the world, especially for small areas where not much happens but for me, I see every airport as a potential project. There was a time when rumours surfaced about the Chinese wanting to own and name our airport. With Pacific islands heavily dependent on tourism, we’d be silly to even entertain the idea of selling the door to our house. Faleolo Airport and the ports are the gateways to Samoa, would you let strangers enter your home whenever they want or own the door to your house?

If we must sell our airport, let’s sell Samoa as a destination first and do it well. We’ve been rolling about with destination marketing and tourism as our biggest GDP contributor. This will result in more people wanting to reach our shores and more flights which will have a catalytic effect, making our airport some money. Let’s not forget that the airport is a second home to more than 300 employees. You might not know that because you rarely see the firefighters, air traffic controllers, workers and maintenance staff, aviation security, corporate service, cleaners and gardeners. Are we ready to sell our most valuable asset? First the runway, then the gateway (terminal). Perhaps not.

The Pacific air transport like most Pacific islands, is but a dot in the aviation industry. Our total traffic numbers barely make a dent with some of the village airports in Asia. It consists mainly of small to medium-sized fleets and its future might lie with more small to medium regional airlines. These airlines can be utilised to feed the thicker traffic routes from the major markets such as New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. Instead of trying to fly outdated high maintenance cost aircraft, the smaller islands can do with more energy efficient and newer aircraft. For major players flying bigger aircraft into our airports, maintaining the right standard for a B777 or fully loaded B747-800 puts a substantial amount of pressure on the making of existing facilities.

The maintenance costs of small airports are rather high. The operational costs alone for a small airport can cripple and bankrupt any medium-sized business. It runs in the millions and there are only a few millions that our airport generates a year which is why it’s been in the red zone for well over 30 years. Have you considered the cost of one rescue fire truck? The cost of navigational aids and specialized training of air traffic controllers to manage it? Have you considered the security requirements and costs? How about the electrical and technical side of things? Also don’t forget the cost of electricity that it takes to keep our runway lights running! That’s already 80 per cent of our total revenue per annum flowing towards expenses. So when someone claims that we are selling our airport, they’d beder be well informed with accompanying costs of not only selling but running an airport for 24 hours, 7 days a week. In saying that, we must s+ll encourage bigger players to fly to our airports so we get the best deal for our people. While we enjoy another peaceful Sunday Samoa, remember airports aren’t just bus stops, they are much more complex than that.

• Enid Westerlund is an aviation specialist, business consultant and author and loves to share stories and write children’s books. 

By Enid Westerlund. 01 October 2023, 12:00PM
Samoa Observer

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