Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi’s government has got it wrong.
That’s the reaction from Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, to the government’s decision to revoke the license of Virgin Australia to fly between Auckland and Apia, leaving more than 6,000 travellers in limbo with their Christmas travel plans.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer yesterday, Olo said having Virgin Australia continue to fly to Samoa from Auckland would be good for travelers, tourists, hoteliers and the business community.
“Having three airlines in Virgin, Samoa Airways and Air New Zealand will produce healthy competition for us the consumers,” Olo said.
“This means cheaper airfares and that is what we need. But now the government has gone ahead and changed all that. Why?”
Olo accepts that Virgin Australia has been milking the route.
“For far too long Virgin Australia took advantage of the fact there were only two airlines and the airfares were ridiculously high,” he said.
But the government’s decision announced this week will help matters.
Olo blames Prime Minister Tuilaepa for the “mistake” made in the Virgin Australia deal.
“Their biggest mistake was getting in bed with them with the joint venture in the first place,” Olo said. “Now they that they have revoked their license, it’s another big mistake.
The Member of Parliament said the government should grant the license allowing Virgin Australia to operate on their own with no ties to the government.
Earlier this week, Tuilaepa announced their decision was final.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Tuesday, Tuilaepa said his government would not yield to threats made by officials within the Australian government.
The Prime Minister blasted the airline for selling tickets when they do not have a license to operate after 5th December, 2017, calling the airline “liars” and “stupid” for their actions.
“The license will expire when the joint venture expires,” he reiterated.
The joint venture between the government, Virgin Australia and the Grey Investment Group expires on 5th December, 2017.
According to Olo, public records show that in the past 10 years, Virgin Australia’s most profitable route is Auckland to Samoa.
“I know this is why the government is adamant to stop Virgin from flying this route, now this is just petty and greedy,” he said.
“The government should look at what benefits everyone, but not just the government.
“But no, the government wants to control the air space on which route Virgin Australia takes.
“The government is greedy and wants to take over all the routes especially the flights between Samoa and Auckland.
“I applaud the government for bringing back Samoa Airways, however there shouldn’t only be two Airlines; it will go right back to where it was when it was only Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia - high airfares,” said Olo.
“What Samoa needs are consistent flights in and out of Samoa and I am beyond certain this will strengthen competition and of course reduce the airfares and again, will benefit us all, the people and the economy.”
In a statement issued by the government earlier this week, it defended the decision saying Virgin should not be surprised by what has happened.
“This decision should not have come as a surprise to 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.
“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 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.”
The statement quoted P.M. Tuilaepa as saying: “We are an island nation attempting to re-start jet services with only a one aircraft airline, and we are being treated in this manner by a multinational company in response.
“However, steps to start from this humble beginning and aim towards the future are on schedule and will continue.
“We therefore have no choice but to stand against any efforts to destroy that goal for our people. We are grateful for the assistance of those airlines and governments willing to assist.”