The Government is looking at purchasing a Twin Otter aircraft from China to expand the Samoa Airways fleet.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi travelled on a Samoa Airways-owned Twin Otter to the recent Polynesian Leaders Summit in Tuvalu, but it was a two-hour flight that included a refuel stopover in Wallis and Futuna, which did not go down well with him.
Speaking on his weekly radio program, the P.M. criticised the national airline’s aging Twin Otter but acknowledged its reliability, saying: “It’s likes horses with boils on its back, however the Twin Otters are quite reliable and can fly even during bad weather.”
He said he would like a bigger plane that could be able to seat up to 70 passengers and travel faster, adding that he saw such aircraft built in China during a 1997 visit.
“We need a much faster airplane, such as airplanes I saw in China. Back in 1997 one of my visits in China, one of the sites we visited was the building where airplanes are built. They conducted airshow showcasing the capabilities of the airplanes they have and it was quite impressive – the truth is that is what we need.”
The Prime Minister pointed out the current Twin Otters in the Samoa Airways fleet were built in Canada but are no longer available.
“Nevertheless the same type of airplane and engine are now being built in China, and it’s of good quality. The Government is spending a lot of money on official trips around the Pacific Islands. For example, if you go to Tonga, you have to fly to New Zealand, meaning you fly over Tonga. If you want to go to the United States of America, you fly to New Zealand and again, the route to America, you fly over Apia to get to America so you see how ridiculous taking these routes (are),” he added.
Chinese aircraft manufacturer, Harbin Aircraft Industry Group, has in recent years been promoting the 19-seat Harbin Aircraft Y12F as a replacement for the de Havilland Canada Twin Otter. The company sold three planes to the Vanuatu national airline in 2009 and the Chinese government gifted one to Tonga in 2014. It is not known if this is the aircraft that the Prime Minister was referring to.