APIA, SAMOA – WEDNESDAY 01 NOVEMBER 2017: The Samoan governments’ decision this week to refuse Virgin Australia the right to fly from Auckland to Apia has affected up to thousands of passengers.
Virgin Australia had been selling seats for five flights a week for the Auckland-Apia route from the middle of November.
The joint-venture between Virgin Australia and the Samoan government ends 13 November as Samoa is in a partnership with Fiji Airways and is to launch its own Samoan Airways 14 November.
A press statement from the Samoan government last night said that its decision to decline the planned service “should not have come as a surprise to Virgin Australia International (VAI) as the previous License was granted on the basis of the joint venture with the Government. That arrangement comes to an end on 13th November 2017.
“Further our government officials have previously made efforts to notify Virgin that they should stop selling Auckland – Apia tickets beyond the 13th November date, without the proper approvals,” the statement continued.
“To date, our government has received no direct response from Virgin to those communications. The efforts to contact Virgin included offers to discuss the License with Virgin officials. This offer has not been taken up to date.
“Instead Samoa was approached by the Australian Government officials where it became necessary to make the decision clear to them. This decision emphasised that VAI would be approved to operate scheduled services from points in Australia to Apia and return but with the Auckland to Apia and return services not approved. The necessary approvals were issued to VAI over the past few days.
“The hope is that this direct link between Australia and Samoa will be reciprocated when the Samoa Airways application is considered. Samoa Airways is working hard to comply with terms of that application to fly direct from Apia to Australia,” the statement said.
The Samoan government has approved the Virgin flights between Brisbane, Sydney and Apia to start 13 November.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoli’ai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi had informed Virgin Australia’s chief executive John Borghetti that Cabinet had unanimously decided not to renew the joint venture agreement.
“The Cabinet has decided that the current arrangement of the JV is no longer the direction that government and ultimately Samoa should take at this time,” the letter said.
The Samoa Government is launching its international airline, Samoa Airways 14 November with six flights a week using a 170-seat two-class Boeing 737-800 with eight seats in business class and 162 economy seats.
In its statement, the Government stands by the decision to decline the approval for Auckland and Apia Virgin flights.
“It was made clear to Virgin that they are free under the License terms to fly direct from Australia to Samoa and return; but Auckland is no longer accessible.
“The Government disagrees with the statement made, that this violates previous Air Service Agreements given that those did not remove Samoa’s sovereign rights to consider all applications made to Samoa, and the overall impact that it can have on our people, economy and country.
“Further, the spirit of those agreements were to facilitate cooperation such as past code sharing with airlines like Qantas and Polynesian Airlines; not to allow for rippling economic damage to Samoa in favour of a Multinational Airline,” said the statement.
The Auckland-Apia route has traditionally been a strong “friends and family” passengers and latest figures show and 8 per cent increase or 59,000 tourists from New Zealand in the past 12 months.
Samoa Airways report a very solid sale of its tickets ahead of flights in mid-November. Air New Zealand is also increasing its services, using Dreamliners on the route this summer.