By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – FRIDAY 03 NOVEMBER 2017: The hard lessons learnt from the state owned Polynesian Airlines that almost bankrupted the country in the 1990s, won’t be repeated in the new venture – Samoa Airways that is due to start international flights 14 of this month.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi who was Minster of Finance at the time when Polynesian Airlines went under, gave the assurance that “the stupid things done by Polynesia Airlines then, which led to its demise, won’t be repeated.”
He remembered the “stupid things” as giving credit to church groups led by church minsters and youth groups led by politicians and even cabinet ministers who end up not paying.
He emphasized that the new venture in Samoa Airways will strictly be a “no pay – no fly policy” whereby everyone including Cabinet Ministers must pay their airfares first before flying.
He said in the past, there was a culture within the Polynesia Airlines office that allowed people to travel overseas on credit, and pay their fares on their return.
“People such as church ministers asking to fly the church youth group over for fundraising purposes, and promise to pay the fares when they return, never kept their promises,” said Tuilaepa.
The same tactic was used by some politicians who wanted to impress voters by taking a group overseas for the same purpose but never kept their promises.
At the time of its supposed expansion, Polynesian Airlines leased aircrafts from countries as far away as Iran which did not meet aviation requirements, and the airline quickly lost money in lease agreements while the aircrafts were stranded in overseas airports as it tried unsuccessfully to obtain clearance to fly.
Tuilaepa also explained that negotiations are underway to accommodate passengers who were booked with Virgin to spend the festive season in Samoa.
He said that Virgin Airlines should not have sold tickets when the partnership agreement with Samoa was to be terminated 13 November which is 11 days away.
Tuilaepa said Samoa had always requested Virgin Airlines for more flights to Samoa but their explanation was there were not enough passengers.
“We have been asking that of them for the past 12 years under our partnership, but they constantly said there were not many people travelling between Samoa and Australia, but when they heard about our new airline, they quickly said more flights are coming this way,” said Tuilaepa.
Samoa has only approved Virgin Airlines direct flights from Australia to Apia but has revoked the request to fly passengers from Auckland to Apia as that’s the route the new Samoa Airways will be servicing.
Tuilaepa also explained that Virgin Air proposed to Samoa to have its subsidiary airline Tiger Airline replace Virgin airline flights when the partnership agreement expires 13 November.
“But that airline is mainly a domestic airline and is only authorised to fly internationally to Indonesia, however it’s having problems due to complaints from the Indonesian Government,” said Tuilaepa.
“May be we are perceived to be, but we are not that stupid,” said Tuilaepa.