Former Samoa Airways Minister slams successor

The former Minister for Public Enterprise, Lautafi Fio Purcell, has lashed out at his ministerial successor Leatinuu Wayne So’oialo over the Samoa Airways plane that is currently grounded in Brisbane, Australia. 

The New Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft lease was recently endorsed by the Tuilaepa Administration, with Lautafi claiming that Leatinuu is out to “destroy” the good work of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) in relation to the leased aircraft. 

In a statement issued by the former ruling party, Lautafi claims that Leatinuu is hell bent on destroying all the positive work the H.R.P.P. has done to revive the country’s fledgling national carrier. 

“It’s easy to twist things and predict doom and gloom but it will not change the fact the country needs the airline to boost tourism and make it easier and affordable for our people to travel,” he said, in reaction to Leatinuu’s comments reported in the Weekend Observer newspaper over the weekend. 

Leatinuu told the Samoa Observer last week that the leased Samoa Airways aircraft is a long way from reaching Samoa or being operationally or commercially viable.

He said according to a report submitted to the Cabinet by the airline's Chief Executive Officer, the New Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft is currently in Brisbane, Australia.

“This is also to wait for evaluation to see if it meets the aviation requirements for Samoa; if it’s up to standard, including the New Zealand aviation requirements, so we can ensure it can operate.

“So we are leaving it for now, because we don’t know how long those checks will be.

“Our only concern is that whilst there is no plane here yet, no flights, no generated revenue, the plane has been approved; payments will eventually kick in and we also have to know how we will be funding this new aircraft.”

The former Cabinet Minister told reporters before leaving office last month that the plane was heading all the way from Amsterdam to Brisbane for the certification as it can only be done in Australia.

Lautafi said the concern shown by Leatinuu over the six-year lease of the new Boeing 737-800 aircraft shows he is a tenderfoot in these matters.

“We are lucky to tie this plane down to a six-year lease as most leases range from 10 years and upwards,” said the three term MP of the Satupa’itea electoral constituency in Savai’i.

The former Minister said the lease for the new plane for the first 12 months was negotiated to less than $US50,000 monthly for the first six months and less than $US100,000 for the next 12 months.

“By that time all the planned and scheduled flights utilizing the new aircraft will be in operation and earning revenue,” said Lautafi. 

As reported earlier, Leatinuu expressed concerns about the public funds which the national airline has been dipping into to cover its costs, including loans from the Unit Trust of Samoa (U.T.O.S.). 

He says the Government is yet to hear from the Trust on the nature of their arrangements with Samoa Airways.

“[U.T.O.S.] will also present a paper before the Cabinet to explain their arrangements with the [national carrier] plus their current funding arrangement with the airline,” he said.

“We also have to ask the question, what happened to the other debts prior to the current arrangement?

“How are they dealing with those debts? Have they been written off or is the current arrangement going to go on top of the other debts?"

Last week Lautafi said the plane had just left its base in Amsterdam to arrive in Egypt for rest and refuel before flying onto Indonesia for another refuelling before flying into Brisbane this week.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer last Friday, Lautafi said the plane was going to arrive on July 29 2021, but that was before the nation had a change in Administration.

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