Flights between islands pick up

Britten Norman Islander BN2-26 gone to Tonga.

Britten Norman Islander BN2-26 gone to Tonga.

Alan Ah Mu

APIA: TUESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2013: After a slow start their air traffic between Upolu and Savai’i islands is picking up Samoa air says.

“When we started we were barely getting a few passengers a week and now on some days we might do up to 17 return flights and these passengers are primarily tourists which is good for the industry,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Langton.

Passengers are stepping off flights at Faleolo International Airport and into the airlines’ Cessna 172 for Savai’i.

Samoa Air began operations June last year by reviving air links between Upolu and Savai’i.

“The process of building up Savai’i has been a slow one and recently SAA (Samoa Airport Authority) Board have approved a scheme to relieve some of the statutory fees in an attempt to keep the cost of air service down and continue to attract tourists,” Langton says.

“We have started the ball rolling there and the numbers are starting to move,” he says.

“These things do take time to settle and for people to start planning around.”

A six-seat Cessna to replace the four-seat Cessna is under consideration if the Air Taxy continues to expand.

“We had some whales in the channel the other day and the passengers were stoked,” said Langton.

In the meantime the airline has stopped flights to American Samoa for now because it has chartered it’s other aircraft, an Islander to Real Tonga who buys it end of the this month.

Flights to American Samoa resume once a C208 Caravan arrives in six weeks’ time.

Though the aircraft can be a 14-seater, it will be configured to seat nine for the greater comfort of passengers who pay fares based on how much they weigh.

Langton hopes to acquire a second Caravan before Christmas.

By then Samoa Airport Authority should have taken over operation of Fagali’i Airport from Polynesian Airlines “and this is an important development for Samoa Air as we have been waiting for this to happen since it was first promoted last year.”

 The next significant step will be the privatisation of Polynesian and then “we can settle down and concentrate on the future.”

“We have been in discussion with Real Tonga for a while and have just concluded an arrangement which has seen our BN2 (Islander) deployed to Tonga along with our crew and we are jointly looking at other ways we can support our assets such as their MA60 aircraft.”

Langton says “This aircraft is actually a really good piece of equipment and I have no doubt that it will do well around the Pacific.”

He has been approached to be part of the team to assist with the validation of certification in China and has no hesitation in doing so.

“I’ve done some test flying for the Chinese before and they are real good to work with.

“Very thorough and we had a lot of fun too. Can’t wait.”

“Pay by weight is still on everyone’s lips and its proving to be a real boon for the Airline.

“We can see at an instant what our weights are and we can keep tabs so that everything travels.

“We have had some real difficulties with our fuelling stations but we will start deploying drums and supplies to the outports in Savaii and elsewhere which will help us a lot.

“Samoa Air still intends to set up a Base at Maota by the end of 2013.”