Much to like, much to learn
There is so much to like and to learn from the story of Fiji Airways.
First of all they are still operating, having begun operations in 1952 trading as Air Pacific.
Secondl, despite a brand change they have managed to stay afloat in the often challenging world where many airlines have figuratively speaking, fallen out of the skies.
The brand change in 2012 to Fiji Airways was said to be a bid to “raise its profile among holidaymakers as part of a wider turnaround strategy” and whether or not that is the whole story, the fact remains that they have been around for 65 years.
Samoa, on the other hand took to the skies in 1959 because of the amazing vision of local businessmen under the proud banner of Polynesian Airlines but ceased to fly very far beyond our shores 35 years later in 1994.
The demise of our airline is well documented and a few words such as inexperienced leadership, poor purchasing, mismanagement, jobs for the boys, government interference and a bloated hierarchy should be enough to bring back the memories of those sad times.
Oh yes, and debt.
There was lots of that, much of which was ‘written off’.
But looking forward, we are now about to embark on what will hopefully be a new era. And the taxpayers will be hoping that this time around, our government will show it has learned from their past mistakes.
A good start would be to take heed of the words of the Chief Executive Officer of Fiji Airways, South African-born, Mr Andre Viljoen.
As a CEO with over 33 years of airline experience, much of it turning around the fortunes of ailing airlines, we should read his C.V. and take note of what he has to say.
In 2002, there was South African Airways which he restored to profitability. Then in just two short years from 2012 to 2014, Air Mauritius received the Viljoen treatment and was turned around in a programme known as the “7 Step Recovery Plan”.
With Samoa’s track record, if any country needed a seven step recovery plan for their airline, that would be us.
This is why it is vital, we take note of some of the other important points Mr Viljoen willingly shared during his stay in Samoa.
He has a regional view evidenced in his words about the importance of economic growth and a more independent South Pacific. Note he said South Pacific, not just Fiji.This can be achieved with Pacific countries controlling and dominating the air space, he said.
He then spoke of the three key areas as being crucial to the success of Fiji Airways.
They could also provide a blueprint for Samoa Airways.
They include growing and improving the network of destinations and then expanding beyond there to feed back into the airline’s country.
The second key area he said, was investing in the right aircraft.
And for those people who watched in continuing dismay as Polynesian Airlines bought and in some cases leased, unsuitable aircraft at greatly inflated prices, his words should resonate.
Finally he said the glue holding all of this together was staying focused, not getting distracted and having government support.
With all that advice, perhaps the one thing he missed out was, having a Mr Andre Viljoen at the helm is also a damn good idea.