Marama na Taukei Naua e Saunaka, Adi Temalesi Sovau;
The Attorney General, Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum;
The Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Hon. Faiyaz Koya;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Chairman and Directors of the Fiji Airways Board;
Managing Director & CEO of Fiji Airways, Andre Viljoen;
Management and Staff of Fiji Airways
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
On the sixth of March, I was here in the West to receive Fiji’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines. The pilots that flew those life-saving shipments were Fiji Airways pilots. And they were able to fly through the pandemic because this new Fiji Airways Aviation Academy has been serving the nation well before this official opening.
Most of us are not experts in aviation certification processes. Those who are, know that pilot training is not a one-and-done deal.
To retain their “current” status, pilots have to keep up with new trends and knowledge in the Aviation Industry and continually maintain their skills.
That first flight carrying our first crate of vaccines was piloted by Captain Samuela Tavanavanua, he was assisted by First Officer Penitiko Yauvoli, and Second Officer Ameniasi Kunagado, all of whom completed their certification at this Academy in the weeks before that flight. Had we not had this Academy open, they would have had to do their in-service training overseas, costing time that we simply did not have to spare throughout the pandemic—and that we shouldn’t have to spare in the future.
Instead, our pilots made use of this Academy to keep themselves air-worthy and –– as direct result –– deliver vaccines that have kept their fellow Fijians out of harm’s way.
Thanks to that very first batch of vaccines, and the dozens more that followed, Fiji is becoming the safest it has been since the pandemic’s start. Now that more than 80 percent of adults in Fiji are fully vaccinated, we can gather here in our seats tonight to celebrate this Academy. In parks across the country, Fijians can play sports again. We can open our businesses and places of work, move and associate with far greater freedom, and prepare ourselves to re-open to the world.
There’s a lot I could say about the benefits of this new Academy and what it is; it’s state-of-the-art facilities and simulators –– both for the A330 and 737 MAX. It’s educational possibilities. It’s resources for pilots and flight attendants. Andre has walked us through the technical details, and it’s all very impressive.
But I think that looking back on what this Academy has already done tells us the most about what it can do for Fiji and the Pacific.
Because it wasn’t only vaccines that our certified pilots have flown to Fiji.
Our National Airline has operated more than 355 Repatriation Flights to reunite Fijians and visitors alike with their families and loved ones. For one full year, we safely repatriated over 46,000 Fijians from overseas.
Between April 2020 and July 2021, Fiji Airways flew almost 13,000 tonnes of Fijian exports like seafood, agricultural produce, kava, turmeric, garments and other products.
That’s kept farmers growing, harvesters harvesting, packers packing, garment-makers sewing, and fisher-folk fishing.
Fiji Airways freighter services have flown in 285 tonnes of essential, life-saving medical supplies used by the Government in the fight against COVID-19, including COVID-19 test kits, consumables, ventilators, GeneXpert machines, fever tents, testing equipment, medicines and others.
You may remember the AUSMAT, NZ-MAT and WHO medical teams that aided our pandemic response on the ground in Fiji. They flew here on Fiji Airways.
Fiji Airways wasn’t profiting off any of these flights. They ran them at cost because Fiji needed its national airline fully enlisted in this national effort.
And it isn’t only Fijians who have benefitted. When the airline of New Caledonia needed to keep their pilots certified, they came to Fiji and they came to this Academy. Moving forward, this Academy is open to any pilots in the region and internationally, who seek its services.
I also urge other Pacific airlines to send their would-be and current pilots and their airline and regulatory authorities to Fiji to train—here in this modern facility, which is as good as any in the industry. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can train here. We can elevate second officers to first officer positions and first officer to captains through a faster process.
But a faster process is still a rigorous process, and all certifications are carefully carried out at the Academy by our local senior “Check and Training” Captains, who are highly skilled, highly experienced, CAAF-approved, pilots.
All of this decreases the need for expat pilots in the Pacific. Pacific flights should be flown by Pacific people. These are well-paying jobs that perform a vital service to our region.
We have the pool of talent. We simply needed the resources to put Fijians and other Pacific Islanders in the captain’s seat. And this Academy brings world-class aviation education in Fiji’s own backyard.
Countless young people dream of being flying Fijians. I’m not only talking about young people who see themselves on the national rugby team, I’m talking about those who dream of taking to the skies as pilots. If you’re a young person in Fiji who wants that for yourself, please know that it need not be a dream. It should be an aspiration because you can learn your profession here. New fixed devices just installed at this Academy will allow Fiji Airways to offer training for students right out of the flying school.
And the benefits go beyond pilots. Cabin crew can train here under the guidance of qualified Senior Fiji Airways trainers and personnel. And Fijian engineers are maintaining the facility and its assets. That means more jobs. More income.
And all of it stays in Fiji. Fiji Airways used to spend around $14 million per year sending its pilots and cabin crews abroad for this training. All of that money is now staying in our people’s pockets. The local economy around Nadi benefits. Fiji benefits. The Pacific benefits as well.
And this Academy is now ready to serve the nation on the cusp of a new dawn of tourism.
We plan to welcome our first flight of tourists on 1st December of this year starting from a list of travel partner countries that include, among others, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Singapore –– where Fiji Airways flies directly.
We are going to manage tourism’s revival in step with carefully formulated protocols that keep us a COVID-safe country. And Fiji Airways has been a triple “A” partner to Government by setting the Industry standard in COVID-safe practices. Our national carrier has earned the highest possible SKYTRAX 5-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating and the Diamond certification by the Airline Passenger Experience Association or APEX.
And because we kept our eye on the long-term prospects of the country and committed to maintaining the Fiji Airways fleet, we are ready to open our runways and welcome tourists to travel-safe areas throughout the country. If some politicians had it their way, we wouldn’t have the planes in Fiji left to fly anyone.
Their short-sightedness would have inflicted permanent scars on our aviation sector. When our borders re-open, huge chunks of tourism revenue would fly out of the country and into the accounts of foreign carriers.
Instead, we committed to our national carrier through a challenging time. And today, Fiji Airways is ready. Its fleet is ready.
And this Academy’s halls are open to current pilots and cabin crew and those who dream of one day taking to the skies.
Thanks to that foresight — and the efforts of many with us this evening — we can celebrate the future of flight in Fiji and the Pacific. Not only the resumption of regular travel to our shores, but the next generation of flying Fijians who will keep our region connected to the world for decades to come.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.