Samoa finds ‘determining its destiny’ comes with a heap of problems

When, in Oct-2017, Samoa terminated its arrangement with Virgin Australia to provide air services between Samoa and New Zealand, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Dr Sailele Malielegaoi optimistically observed that by having its own airline, Samoa “will be able to determine our destiny” as well as to create employment and contribute to economic growth via increase exports and tourism.

On 30-Mar-2019, the airline announced a series of cancellations because “our current lease upon which our flights have operated since November 2017 couldn’t be extended, and with the worldwide grounding of the MAX 8 aircraft type, there is a huge shortage of narrow-body aircraft as airlines scramble to consolidate their schedules using their existing fleets and short-term leases from other operators.” Samoa Airways was due to receive a leased MAX 9 on 1-Apr-2019 as a replacement for the original 737.

The Virgin break-up, ending 12 years of Virgin operations on behalf of the island nation, was not a happy one and immediately resulted in Samoa having to arrange for stranded travellers to find alternative ways home. Virgin had announced it could not make money under the arrangement and suggested replacing the service, using subsidiary Tiger Airways.

Since then the Samoa Airways take off with a single 737-800 wetlease operation has run into numerous headwinds, common for single aircraft fleets.

In Nov-2018, the 737-800 suffered damage, necessitating the short notice (i.e. expensive) charter of a Qantas 737. But already, by Mar-2018, the airline was becoming controversial, forcing the Samoan Prime Minister to defend the loss making operation.

Suggesting it would take two years for the protected operation to become profitable, he noted: “What goes in the airline business is true in any kind of business, the Samoa Observer, Time Magazine or in Playboy. And it is not uncommon that a loss made in some months may be offset in later months. An ordinary person who does not understand the technicality surrounding businesses can easily make a stupid mistake on the basis of an equally stupid report that the company is broke and therefore it should wind up”.

As for the latest problems, where Samoa Airways is left without an aircraft, the airline announced on 30-Mar-2019 that it was “in final negotiations with Malindo Air to lease a Boeing 737-800 aircraft to operate services between Apia, Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane.” As a last minute deal, it won’t come cheaply.

Finalisation of that arrangement is expected “towards the end of the first week” of Apr-2019. Meanwhile, the national airline without an aircraft remains expensively grounded.

Samoa Airways has two Boeing 737 MAX 9s on (lease) order. You can’t have all the luck. Assuming the MAX is back in the air in the next few months, it attracts a mouth watering monthly lease rate.