The Attorney-General and Minister for Economy and Civil Aviation;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Mr Rajesh Punja,
Chairman of Fiji Airways Board, and his fellow Directors; Mr Andre Viljoen, Managing Director and CEO of Fiji Airways;
All visiting guests from DAE Capital, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and others;
Representatives of our tourism industry and the business sector;
The staff of Fiji Airways;
My fellow Fijians;
Ladies and gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all – and Bula, A350!
Over the years, I’ve taken many flights on many planes; as we work to promote Fiji’s voice on the international stage, it’s part of the nature of my job. But I must tell you, my friends – no other trip can compare to this one. I just stepped off the flight of my life.
The in-flight experience itself was incredible. From the stunning, Fiji-inspired interior – for which we have to thank Shaenaz Voss for her fantastic job – to the plane’s comfortable seats, the world-class hospitality of your cabin crew, to the smooth ride and quiet hum of those Rolls Royce engines, and the effortless take-off and landing, I can already see how this plane has raised the bar for air travel to the Pacific. It is truly the best of the best.
Meanwhile, what will forever stand out in my memory is the flyover that we just took across Viti Levu.
Starting from Vatulele, we then flew over Tailevu – a very important province, as we all know – to Parliament House, along the Queen’s Road and over the Mamanuca Islands, before circling over the West and finally landing here at our award-winning Nadi International Airport.
Flying as low as 1,000 feet, I was able to see Fiji from a totally new perspective. From my childhood home to my office in Suva to our beautiful mountains and archipelagos, from small villages to our largest urban centres, from our roads and resorts to sweeping views of untouched nature, I saw Fiji in a way I have never seen it before.
Having a bird’s eye view of the progress that we have worked so hard to achieve in recent years filled me with profound pride – I saw not only our infrastructure on full display, but also our sense of national unity and nationhood, as Fijians of all backgrounds gathered together to wave and witness history in the making.
From both my personal flight experience, and seeing our nation’s enthusiastic response to the A350’s journey and arrival, it’s clear that this is more than a plane – it is a symbol of Fiji’s progress and growing modernity, and it is something we can all share pride in.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s because the Island of Viti Levu , as she’s called, isn’t just any new aircraft. This is the first Airbus A350-900 extra-wide body in the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, showing our visionary leadership and commitment to staying ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in the future of the Fijian economy. And it is the beginning of a new chapter for Fiji Airways, bringing our national carrier into a new league of luxury travel.
Like my government, our national carrier sees the big picture. The extended effect of a single strategic investment like this one will bolster our vital tourism sector, sustaining vital employment and creating new jobs.
It will connect Fiji to new corners of the world, and help further position us as the geopolitical hub of the Pacific. And it will and forever transform the face of Fiji Airways with the most modern fleet of aircraft in the Pacific Islands.
With a plane that can fly farther without refuelling, the A350 will open Fiji to lucrative new markets, pushing Fijian tourism towards new horizons in the Americas – particularly hubs in the United States – and new parts of Asia, precisely at a time when larger regional economies are softening. Fijians will also be able to visit their families abroad and travel to new destinations with unprecedented ease – meaning we will feel closer to our diaspora community, and to the world, than ever.
With a plane that is more fuel-efficient, we will lower Fiji’s carbon footprint, allowing us to again “walk the talk” when it comes to enhancing our Nationally Determined Contribution and combatting climate change.
With a plane that is more spacious, we’ll be able to do more than just stretch our legs – we will be able to regularly carry more freight out of Fiji. This is good news for our exporters, and for our economy; more Fijian Made goods and fresh, Fijian Grown produce will be able to make its way into foreign markets at more competitive rates. And we’ll be able to more easily bring goods and products into the country, further creating new commercial and financial opportunities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very excited for the future of Fiji Airways, and for the future of our beloved Fiji. Today more than ever – whether you’re watching from the skies or on the ground – we are witnesses of real progress you can see. And today, we are witnesses of another historic accomplishment that every Fijian can be proud of.
To close, I’d like to extend the many, many hardworking Fiji Airways team members it took to make this happen. This day wouldn’t have been possible without your chairman, board directors, staff, pilots, engineers, cabin crew, tech crew, ground workers, and of course, the leadership of your managing director and CEO, Andre Viljoen, and our Minister responsible for Civil Aviation. On behalf of all Fijians, I extend a big vinaka vakalevu.
With that, it is my great honour to present to you our first Fiji Airways A350-900 XWB aircraft, the Island of Viti Levu.
Vinaka, everyone, and thank you.