Financial turmoil for Pacific aviation sector sparks call for overhaul

Pacific airlines that struggled to make a profit before the COVID-19 pandemic have plunged further into economic turmoil, prompting calls for industry reform.

George Faktaufon, secretary general for the Association of South Pacific Airlines, said it may not be feasible for regional governments to continue propping up struggling airlines.

"I'm pretty sure that government would rather spend the money which they currently spend on on subsidizing airlines on other pressing needs," Mr Faktaufon said.

Many airlines in the Pacific, particularly those operating in smaller island states, are in hibernation or operating at a severely reduced capacity.

Samoa Airways pilot Andrew Robeck said the last twelve months had been extremely difficult for everyone in the industry.

He would normally be flying all around the Pacific, but it's now been almost six months since he's been in the air.

Samoa's national airline has been forced to cut staff wages, with Mr Robeck saying he now receives about a quarter of his usual salary.

"We're just kind of like living from pay check to pay check," he said.

"I've got loans to pay and mortgage payment ... I'm almost 60 years old now. And, you know, all the plans for retirement in the next five years has just gone out the window."

Former Fiji Airways flight attendant Lusiana Tuimanono has also felt the financial strain of the pandemic.

Since losing her job she has had to pull her young daughter out of a good-quality primary school because she could not afford the fees.

"It's not easy to look for another job [in the airline industry]," she said.

George Faktaufon said the pandemic could become a catalyst for positive change in the region's aviation sector.

"There is a need to have a look at the air transport needs ... to see how best we can provide a transport system that is viable, that is cost effective," he said.

"Going into a cooperative type arrangement where we can share resources, aircraft, maintenance, even crewing, these are some of the things that that we are currently looking at."


Photo file