President of the Republic of Fiji

Nadi International Airport Tuesday, 19th March, 2013

• The Prime Minister, Honourable Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama
• The Honourable Chief Justice
• Cabinet Ministers
• Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and High Commissioners
• Members of the Diplomatic Corps
• Representatives from Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Panasonic
• Members of the Fiji Tourism Industry
• The Chairman and Members of the Air Pacific Board
• Mr. Dave Pflieger, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Air Pacific and Staff of Air Pacific
• Distinguished Guests
• Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Asalam Aleikum, Namaskar!

I wish to firstly acknowledge the traditional ceremonies of welcome by the chiefs and people of the vanua of Saunaka.

Usually, after a long ten hour flight, I would look forward to disembarking and setting my feet on solid ground!

However, on this special occasion, i did not mind – nor did the others of the extended flight time around the islands, and especially the one-off opportunity to show the people of Fiji, Air Pacific’s, and, in fact, Fiji’s latest national asset.

I must also say that the 10-hour flight from Hong Kong was a special experience given that we were on a brand-new plane! I can already imagine what it will be like when we add the full complement of in-flight services and the professional personal touch of hospitality of which our own air pacific flight attendants are famously renowned.

I know that many of you, like me, have been eagerly looking forward to our new plane. And I am glad to see many of you here to celebrate this auspicious occasion. For indeed, today is a day to celebrate a remarkable achievement.

Through Air Pacific and a host of both local and international partners, Fiji now owns a wide-body aircraft - for the first time since our national airline took to the sky more than sixty years ago!

For the un-initiated, I’ll share with you some of my newly acquired knowledge of aircrafts which has just been boosted over this past weekend since travelling to Hong Kong to bring our new plane home.

The wide body aircraft is a large airliner with two passenger aisles, also known as a twin-aisle aircraft. Wide-body aircrafts can seat from seven to ten and in some cases even eleven passengers abreast. They can carry from 200 to as many as 850 passengers.

Up until now, Air Pacific’s fleet comprised of narrow-body aircrafts which were of course with a single aisle and carried an average of 162 passengers. This is not to say that Air Pacific does not operate wide-body aircrafts. It operates the 747 and used to operate a 767, but these were leased in the past.

The ownership of wide-body planes is a strong statement that Air Pacific, and, indeed Fiji, is changing our business in the sky! Not only that, we can also be proud to be associated with internationally renowned aircraft manufacturers like airbus, Rolls-Royce and Panasonic, whose distinguished representatives I have had the pleasure of meeting in Hong Kong and who have made the wise and important business decision to deliver their finished product to us today.

Be rest assured that i am giving you the thumbs-up for making such an excellent product!

You have stood true to your reputation of manufacturing first-class state-of-the-art aircrafts which have now become the popular brand in the aviation industry around the world.

Speaking of Hong Kong, I know many people will have wondered why those of us who just flew in this morning didn’t stay back to be part of the much-looked forward-to Hong Kong sevens.

Let me just say that duty called and that we decided not to mix business and pleasure on this occasion. But we know only too well of the many who are quietly chuckling – and enjoying this monumental mis-timing!

But I have this to say to our national sevens team: you performed dismally in Wellington but you improved in L.A., you go to Hong Kong as defending champions. We wish you every success. You will give us even greater reason to celebrate if you win the Hong Kong sevens title this weekend.

Today ladies and gentlemen, marks a very significant milestone in the evolution of aviation in our country. The magnificent plane we see before us is the first of three that Air Pacific has bought. The new planes and the expanded routes they will soon fly, will contribute greatly to growing Fiji’s economy and its proud tradition of hospitality and tourism.

Importantly, the new planes will enable Fiji to expand and sustain its connections to countries with a high number of out-bound tourists, and also to new and emerging markets like China, India and the greater Asian region, and perhaps even in Europe.

On the whole, Fiji’s tourist arrivals, including those from our traditional sources in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas continue to reach unprecedented levels. I have no doubt that the new aircrafts will translate into even more arrivals, in the same way that they will help create more jobs and contribute significantly to sustaining our tourism industry as Fiji’s top foreign exchange and revenue earner.

The new planes will also enable Fiji to increase our export opportunities to new markets. However, it is important for all Fijians to note that with these expanded opportunities comes greater responsibility for all of us. Our collective responsibility is to develop our country into one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

We need to ensure that we provide unparalleled hospitality in an equally safe and environment-friendly destination. These will add great value to the natural beauty of our islands and the uniqueness of our people.

So, our challenge is to be among the best tourist destinations in the world! I have every confidence that we can do this and enjoy the fruits of our labour.

Air Pacific is already showing the way. But like any other business venture, the airline has been through both good and bad times.

Recently, however, with the sterling leadership of its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Dave Pflieger, the airline has seen a huge turn-around from sustaining significant losses in previous years to raking-in profit in the millions of dollars lately.

In addition to this rejuvenated profit, air pacific has made unprecedented improvements to its operational efficiency. The fact that it has now been able to purchase top-of-the-range aircrafts is indicative that the airline is well on the road to recovery, and a brighter future.

However, as I mentioned to our guests in Hong Kong yesterday, it is rather unfortunate for Fiji that we will soon lose Dave to one of the United States ‘leading airline companies.

Fiji must now take courage and confidence in the long-term strategies that Dave’s sterling leadership has helped to put in place, and in the staff that he has trained. And all of us in Fiji wish him and his family well in all their future endeavours.

At this juncture, I would like to acknowledge on behalf of the government and the people of Fiji all those who have helped to make this dream for Air Pacific and for Fiji turn into reality.

We thank each and every one of you – our local and global partners - for your support and contribution towards acquiring these new planes and towards arrangements that should see air pacific and Fiji having a competitive edge in the airline industry. Eventually, we would like to see a win-win outcome for all of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, i now draw your attention to our latest national treasure.

The traditional design or masi symbol that you see on the side of the plane is meant to distinguish air pacific, which is soon to be known as Fiji Airways, from the rest of the airlines. The design represents the culture and heritage as well as the spirit of Fiji and her people; it represents the natural beauty of our 333 islands; and it also represents the genuine hospitality of our people. These, among others, are the x-factors that we hope will lure more tourists to our side of the world.

This particular plane as you have been told is named “the Island of Taveuni” after our third largest island.

And I am pleased to reveal, for the first time, the name of the second plane which will be arriving in May of this year. That plane, also another airbus like this one, will be named Namuka-i-Lau, paying homage to a national icon, Ms.Makereta Matemosi- who is here with us today, and to the island from which she hails.

Not only has Makereta designed the new identity for ‘Fiji Airways’, she has done so by using art and inspiration which is uniquely Fijian. She is a shining example of the creativity of our people.

And as our national airline soars to new horizons, so will her designs, and the place she calls home.

In naming the new planes after Taveuni and Namuka-i-Lau, Air Pacific/Fiji Airways will carry on its proud tradition of promoting the islands of Fiji.

We all wait in anticipation for the naming of the third plane, which will arrive in November of this year, but that is another secret.

My final comments this morning are to the 900 people who work for Air Pacific, soon to be Fiji Airways. Thank you for weathering the storms of the past. Your hard work has achieved all that the airline is today. The nation recognises your contributions to your company, and indeed to your country. I encourage you all to continue to deliver the sterling results of the past three years. I am excited to be back here to witness what you all will accomplish next.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the people of Fiji, I am deeply honoured to welcome Air Pacific and Fiji’s new aircraft, “The Island of Taveuni.”

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, shukriya, bahut dhanyavaad.