Fix Faleolo’s defective cargo loading equipment

By The Editorial Board 12 September 2023, 10:00AM

The economic outlook for Samoa has generally been positive in recent months, based on data released by the Central Bank of Samoa, with the spike in visitor arrivals, increasing remittance inflows, and receipts from the exports of goods as the major factors.

CBS in a media release last month pinpointed the growth areas in the Samoan economy and made projections that the rebuilding of the country’s economy is on track.

"The source of this robust recovery comes from strong expansions in sectors such as commerce, business services, personal and other services, accommodation and restaurants and transport services,” read the CBS brief. "In addition, visitor earnings, remittances and exports of goods receipts have increased significantly in FY 2022/2023, adding to the strong economic recovery so far."

But developments at the Faleolo International Airport last Saturday connected to the operations of Air New Zealand threw the spanner in the works and could now threaten the positive gains that the country has made on the economic front.

An article (Air New Zealand cancels Samoa flights) in the Sunday 10 September 2023 edition of the Sunday Samoan reported on Air New Zealand's cancellation of two widebody aircraft services to the Faleolo International Airport last Saturday and yesterday. The cancellation caught hundreds of travellers off-guard with New Zealand's national carrier also advising that flights on Monday are also cancelled.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Air New Zealand said the ground service equipment in Apia [Faleolo International Airport], which is required to load and unload passenger bags and cargo from the aircraft, is currently not fit for service resulting in the cancellation of the flights. Media reports from New Zealand yesterday morning suggested that Air New Zealand had been working with Samoa Airways – which handles all ground operations at the airport – over the last 12 months to fix the issue.

So why has it taken Samoa Airways over 12 months to address and resolve this technical issue relating to airport equipment that loads and unloads passengers' luggage and cargo onto widebody aircraft? 

It is now clear, based on news coverage of this issue, that the defective equipment at the Falelolo International Airport had been there since Samoa’s international borders were reopened in August last year. 

According to New Zealand media coverage, the defective cargo loading equipment at the Faleolo International Airport only affects Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777-300ER or Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. And how many passengers does each one of these two aircraft carry at any one time? Both aircraft can carry up to 300 passengers so if two flights were cancelled last Saturday and yesterday (Monday) then we are talking about 500-plus travellers and returning residents who were returned to New Zealand, thus nullifying any opportunity for Samoa’s economy to benefit from their visit. 

Also, the fact that it has taken the Samoa Airways management 12 months to address this operational matter is a cause for concern. Mind you, the national airline has been in the news lately, in relation to its services at the reopened Fagalii Airport, as well as its announcement last week to refund travellers who purchased tickets during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amid these developments at the airline, how is it that there was no progress made over the past 12 months on fixing the equipment that loads and unloads passengers' luggage as well as cargo onto widebody aircraft? 

It is mindboggling that this operational matter has been there and unresolved at Faleolo International Airport for 12 months and we can only come up with two reasons: (a) the officer put in charge of resolving this issue is incompetent or (b) the Samoa Airways management has been unable to progress requests for funding assistance from the Samoa Government to enable them to purchase new ground cargo/luggage handling equipment.

The two cancellations of widebody aircraft services into Samoa from New Zealand last Saturday and yesterday could have wider ramifications for the country’s tourism sector if not speedily resolved, due to the fact that New Zealand currently accounts for 43.2 per cent of visitors to Samoa.

With so much at stake, the Prime Minister, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa should intervene if there are indications that there are bottlenecks either at the Ministry [Ministry for Private Enterprises] or the Cabinet which resulted in this matter taking up to 12 months to resolve. The gains that the country has made over the last 12 months to rebuild the economy should not be lost and those public officials with the responsibility to address this should not rest on their laurels.

By The Editorial Board 12 September 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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