BY Alan Ah Mu
APIA: THURSDAY 10 OCTOBER 2013: Taua Fatu Tielu boxed to the last round to keep Fagali’i International Airport in Polynesian Airlines’ hands.
When Cabinet agreed with arguments that state-owned Polynesian should no longer operate Fagali’i and for the airport to be transferred to Samoa Airport Authority, Taua decided to quit as Chief Executive Officer of the airline.
He tendered his resignation last night, “because I am deeply disappointed with the decision to transfer Fagali’i Airport to Sāmoa Airport Authority due to the gullibility of those who made that decision.
“The Decision Makers in my considered view have been fooled by one person into making this decision.”
Taua declined to name the “one person” he refers to saying it was unnecessary because readers can work that out for themselves from articles already in the public arena.
This was his resignation letter:
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Afioga Feesago Siaosi Fepulea’i
Polynesian Airlines Board of Directors
It is with deep regret that I submit this letter of resignation as the outcome of the Fagali’i Airport saga has convinced me to take this option. I have given more than sufficient reasons why I believe Fagali’i Airport should remain under Polynesian Airlines but it feels like playing a 7 a side rugby match where not only your other six players are playing for the opposing team but the referee is also, so you can never win a lopsided game of 14 against 1.
I feel the time is right for me to move on and pass the baton on to a new pair of hands. I have enjoyed my time as CEO leading Polynesian Airlines to seven consecutive profitable years since the financial year beginning 1st of July 2006 when the Company was dispossessed of its international jet operation.
My Employment Contract, though expired, requires me to give three months notice however I am prepared to leave earlier should that be the wish of the Board. I would be happy to assist the Board in the transition period while recruiting a replacement CEO and complete a few other tasks that are currently in progress.
I wish you and the Board and staff of Polynesian Airlines continued success in the years ahead.
Ma le fa’a’āloalo lava
Tauā Fatu Tielu
Taua knows the competitive advantage Fagali’i gave Polynesian and its twin otter aircraft was vital for continued profitability on the sole route the airline competed in, the inter-Samoa one.
The “Decision Makers” he believes to be naïve, in the lack of specificity, must include members of the committee appointed by Cabinet to consider the transference of Fagali’i to SAA.
The committee members were representatives of Polynesian Airlines, SAA, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure and Attorney General’s Office.
From Taua’s resignation letter where he says even the referee was against him it can be deduced that he fought against the transfer, the committee recommended to Cabinet otherwise.
What upsets him is that Fagali’i was under SAA who closed the airport down to save costs because Faleolo International Airport was under-used.
Meanwhile Polynesian with its jet operation taken over by a joint venture, was reduced to serving the inter-Samoa route where competition from American Samoa-based rivals was fierce.
With Taua as CEO management came up with the idea of re-opening Fagali’i, which it did in July 2009.
Their rivals had bigger planes which could not use the short runway at Fagali’i but with twin otters Polynesian could – and enjoy the advantage of being closer to Apia than Faleolo and American Samoa.
“Our airline business would have disappeared if we did not re-open Fagali’i airport at that time,” said Taua.
If Polynesian Airlines had not re-opened the airport, the property would now be overgrown with weeds and trees or occupied by squatters or a hotel business and it would never have become an airport again, he said.
“Anyway we are about to post our seventh profitable year with a profit of $1.6 million for the year ending 30 June 2013 taking our total profits for the last seven years to $20 million, compared to a loss of $91 million for the previous seven years.
“I will be leaving the company before year end with a much stronger and healthier balance sheet than when I first took over as CEO over seven years ago and that is a huge consolation and for which I must thank my dedicated and resourceful management team and staff.
“Of course it goes without saying that without the support and business of our customers there would be no Polynesian Airlines and for that I register a big FAAFETAI TELE.”
By all accounts Polynesian Airlines is to be privatised. For example Chris Langton, CEO of Samoa Air, Polynesian Airlines’ rival, said:
“We have … been assured by government that Polynesian will be privatised, approved by cabinet (but) no definite date other than about 5 to 11 months from now.”
Asked if he thought the decision to transfer Fagali’i to SAA was linked to the likely privatisation of Polynesian, Taua said:
“No it does not link to the privatisation but solely on the insistence of one person alone to take the airport away from Polynesian.
“The Decision Makers just jump to whatever this person says must be done, as I said they have simply been fooled by this one person.”
Can Polynesian survive without control of Fagali’i?
“Polynesian can survive if the right type of adjustments to counter the impact of the change are put in place.”