Alan Ah Mu
APIA: THURSDAY 29 AUGUST 2013: An airport in Aleipata can boost inter-Samoa trade and tourism under certain conditions head of an American Samoa airline says.
The airport can also be profitable, says Barney Sene, Executive Vice President of Pago Pago-based Inter Island Airways by email.
“If developed properly in conjunction with a thriving new town, hotels, manufacturing businesses and other shops, an airport can break even, become sustainable and even become profitable over time,” Sene says.
“In my own view the airport will not be profitable in the short term,” says Chief Executive Officer of Apia-based Polynesian Airlines Taua Fatu Tielu.
“Profitability will follow if the stated goals are achieved,” Taua says.
Boosted inter-Samoa trade and tourism are the stated goals behind Government’s idea to build an airport in Aleipata District, specifically at Satitoa village some 500 metres inland of Satitoa Wharf.
“A large population segment in the general area would help immensely,” Sene says.
Aleipata itself has an estimated population of 1 000 to 2 000.
“To us,” says Sene, “airports are infrastructure just like roads.
“You develop a road to a remote area or village and new development such as businesses, restaurants, stores, etc. start to spring up,” he says.
“You have a fully developed airport with shops and restaurants (an ‘Airport Mall’) in it and you start to drive tourism and commerce even further.”
Sene says to build an airport in five years which is what Civil Aviation minister Manu’alegalala Enokati Posala hopes for at Aleipata is achievable if planning and groundwork begins now.
“The closest airport to Aleipata is Fagali’i Airport,” he says, of the port which like Faleolo International Airport is in Upolu – the island of the Independent State of Samoa which is closest to American Samoa.
Aleipata District is the closest part of Upolu to American Samoa.
“By having an airport in Aleipata, you make it easier for tourist/travellers to get to the general Aleipata area from Faleolo International airport where air-taxi service can help move travellers to Aleipata, versus having to drive for two hours or more to get there,” says Sene.
“Tourists and travelers do not like a long drive after de-boarding a long flight from Australia, New Zealand or Hawaii,” he says.
“As with any infrastructure development, you have to build it first and they will come.
“Hotels and tourism development would be critical and important to sustain the new airport and would need to be included in the entire master plan.”
Aleipata is one of the longest established tourist spots in the country with mainly beach fale properties on offer. Aga Reef Resort & Spa is a recent addition.
Inter Island Airways competes with Apia-based Polynesian Airlines and Samoa Air on the inter-Samoa route.
Inter Island flies between Faleolo and Pago Pago on the route.
Polynesian and Samoa Air uses Fagali’i airport for flights to Pago Pago International Airport, 40 minutes away.
Of the implications for them of the new airport Sene says:
“Inter Island Airways would certainly consider operating into the proposed new Aleipata/Satitoa International Airport in the future, provided the airport runway is 3,000 ft. or greater, and surfaced properly with required air navigation aids.
“We may start off with two flights per week and grow it from there, depending on demand.
“As the Aleipata area develops with more hotels and other businesses, this would increase the number of flights for us.
“The new proposed Aleipata/Satitoa International Airport would be closer for Pago Pago International Airport, where flight time would be 15 minutes.”