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News: Pacific Airlines CEO Resigns

News: CEO Resigns As Airline About To Record Profit

By John Andrews in Auckland – www.pacificinsights.com

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Polynesian Airlines is about to announce its first operating profit in years --- just as its chief executive John Fitzgerald prepares to leave.

The Samoa-based airline’s board is expected to reveal a profit for the last financial year of between $NZ1million and $2million, a far cry from the $45million the airline lost over the previous four years.

 John FitzgeraldAfter serving three years as PAL’s ceo and three as chief financial officer, Mr Fitzgerald (pictured left) has resigned and will leave on January 31.

A big strain on the airlines resources had been the leasing of a second Boeing 737-800 at a time when the market was robust, Mr Fitzgerald said yesterday.

PAL’s financial position worsened when the market evaporated even before the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, forcing the airline to return the second jet to its owners in 2003.

Speaking from Apia, he said: “Like all airlines, we have had quite a concentrated effort in reducing all our costs. The biggest chunk of these costs was associated with over-capacity we had with the second 737-800."

One of Mr Fitzgerald’s main tasks in recent months has been managing the effects of a merger between the Samoa Government-owned PAL and Virgin Blue in a joint venture resulting in the formation of Polynesian Blue.

“I have no problem with the [Samoan] government’s partial or total privatisation policy and choice of joint venture partner,” he said. “There were some differences of opinion with processes associated with it.”

PAL now employs about 190 people, down by more than half the number at its peak.

In the wake of PAL’s scaled down business --- the domestic and regional airline provides a Dash 8 service between Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga and, as of yesterday, to Niue --- Fitzgerald decided it was time to move on. He is considering other employment options.

Weight and fuel restrictions mean the 37-seat Dash 8 can take 24 passengers on the Apia-Niue leg and 29 on the return trip.

Niue Premier Young Vivian welcomed PAL’s decision to run a once a week service between Apia and Niue, saying it enabled tourists to stay on the island for a few days rather than a whole week as they were obliged to do when travelling on Air New Zealand’s once weekly Boeing 737 flight between Auckland and Niue. The Air New Zealand link was introduced early last month.

Mr Vivian, who is Niue’s Minister of Civil Aviation, believes his island can cope with increased numbers of visitors using PAL’s feeder service.

“Samoa has a number of regional institutions and they are booming in agriculture and tourism,” he said. “These are some of the areas that we want to tap into and we want Samoans to come and work in Niue.”

ends

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