9 June 2023, Apia Samoa. The owner of Talofa Airways and long serving pharmacist in Samoa, Mrs Maria Westerlund Hunter says they are saddened and dissapointed in the public comment by Minister of Transport, Hon Olo Afoa Fiti Vaai, regarding the airline’s Twin Commander aircrafts.
Following an official launch ceremony to re-open Fagalii Airport last week, several concerns were raised by pilots including the Talofa Airways Chairman, Toleafoa Captain Jeffrey Hunter.
In response to the public discussions on the airport’s safety, the Minister of Works Olo Fiti Vaai, suggested that the Talofa Airways aircraft is not fit to land at Fagalii.
Olo said the Samoa Airways DHC Twin Otter turbo prop aircraft is well suited to the airport landing strip at Fagalii Airport, whereas, “the Talofa Airways company ought to search for and invest in another aircraft, that is more suitable to the conditions at Fagalii..”
Co-owner and founder of Talofa Airways Mrs Maria Westerlund Hunter says that as tax paying business owners, they are saddened by the loosely made remarks aimed at the safety of their airline.
Maria Hunter reminds the Minister that Talofa Airways had operated safely from Fagalii Airport for over three years when the airport was previously in operation.
“We have PASO certification,” said Mrs Hunter, “we uphold all safety and security regulations as an international airline serving Samoa and our neighboring Pacific Islands.”
“O loo iai foi ma’ua PASO (Pacific Avaiation Safety Officer) o loo faailoa mai ai le saogalemu o le ma’ua vaalele, ma ua tolu tausaga o lele le Talofa Airways i Fagalii, e le’i iai lava se faalavelave na tulai mai, o loo lelei tulaga uma o le vaalele..”
The Talofa Airways operate the Twin Commander 690B model, a pressurized high-wing twin turboprop with a rugged design and plenty of power. The cabin features seating for up to nine passengers including the copilot seat.
“The airplane is comfortable with air condition and has great visibility. It’s rugged construction is also well suited for unimproved and short field airport operations,” states the Talofa Airways website.
Mrs Maria Hunter reiterates the concerns of Toleafoa Captain Jeffrey Hunter and other pilots regarding the safety of Fagalii airport following its re-opening ceremony last week.
Mrs Hunter told Samoa Global News they had concerns with the quality of the tarmac especially what they saw on the day of the re-opening launch.
“The airstrip and tarmac should be smooth, instead, there were visible pieces of gravel on the runway which could easily flick into aircraft engines or damage propellas” said Mrs Hunter.
“These are the risks, and the safety of the public is our main concern,” said Mrs Hunter.
“Sa tatau ona lamolemole le tar, e fikifiki solo le iliili ne’i aafia ai afi, ae le gata i lea o pe’ape’a, ma ono tula’i mai ai lea o se faalavelave.”
Mrs Hunter also aired concerns that the refurbishment work recently done to the airstrip and tarmac was a cost-cutting exercise, instead of contracting quality specialists in the area of airport construction.
Locally owned Ulia Construction was announced by Government to have been awarded the contract to refurbish the airstrip and add another 100 metres according to the Minister of Transport at the opening ceremony. Ulia Constructions are well known for their work on roads across Samoa over the years, however, according to Mrs Hunter, roadwork specialists may not have been the best choice for the airstrip.
“A firm with the right qualifications and experience should have been contracted for the airport, instead of looking to selecting the lowest bidder out of roadwork companies,” said Maria.