Message from the Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama
On this, our Independence Day, I can think of nothing that symbolises our nation's independence more than our national airline. It carries our flag and the renowned hospitality of our people to some of the great cities of our region - Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong.
And now it will carry our nation's name, as Air Pacific becomes Fiji Airways next year. It is a matter for great national pride to have our own airline bearing the name of our nation, carrying Fijians to the world and global visitors to our shores.
We regard Air Pacific as an essential industry because it is. And not just to our economy, which depends on the visitors it brings to our country. It is essential to the sense of pride and independence that we are celebrating on this day.
I happen to be one of the many Fijians old enough to remember the original Fiji Airways and the small planes that used to rumble across our skies. The airline was founded in the early 1950s by Harold Gatty - the Australian aviation pioneer - and was our first rapid link to many of our islands within Fiji and then to our neighbours. The first Fiji Airways flight was between Suva and Lautoka in 1951. Now, we think nothing of flying to the US, Hong Kong or Australia.
The first Fiji Airways plane was made largely of canvass - a De Havilland Rapide - and the pilot used a compass to get his bearings. Next year, we start taking delivery of three giant airbuses that fly by computer and navigate using satellites.
The child in all of us thrills at the advances in aviation in our lifetimes. The Fijian in all of us thrills at the idea that our own airline will soon carry our name to the great cities of the Asia Pacific. The airline business is notoriously cutthroat and the airlines of many of our island neighbours have fallen victim along the way.
It is a cause for great national pride that Fiji's is still flying and I want to say a few words tonight about why Air Pacific is still in the air when others are not. Running a successful airline these days is all about being as efficient as possible, maximising yields, seizing opportunities and keeping a ruthless eye on costs.
When my Government took office, Air Pacific badly needed reforming. We especially had to run the company more efficiently, free up its labour market, and alter certain work practices. It was a difficult exercise, but we took the hard decisions necessary to keep Air Pacific in the air and its workers in their jobs.
I want to pay special tribute tonight to the management team led by Dave Pflieger, an American citizen who we have come to regard as an honorary Fijian for his dedication and skill. Vinaka vakalevu Dave. Assisted by the board of directors chaired by Nalin Patel, Air Pacific has risen to new heights. Air Pacific has turned an alarming loss into a highly encouraging profit and given a lesson in efficiency to airlines many times its size. I also want to pay tribute to the men and women who keep Air Pacific in the air - the pilots, cabin crew, maintenance workers, support staff, baggage handlers, reservations staff - all of the people needed to keep a great airline flying. You do our airline proud and you do our nation proud and we thank you all for your service.
The reform process at Air Pacific has been a long journey. But you have faced the challenges with courage and fortitude. No jobs have been lost. In fact, more will be added as our new aircraft start coming on stream next year. And for the first time, those reforms include a profit sharing scheme for airline staff.
The harder you work and the more successful the new Fiji Airways becomes, the more you will earn. This is the most basic of workers' rights, to obtain a fair share of any company's profits. And this is what our reforms are delivering.
Tonight, we celebrate the launch of the new Fiji Airways and unveil how its new planes will look. It's a matter of great pride to me that the design came from within Fiji, by a woman named Makareta Matemosi. Her masi design will be emblazoned on state-of-the-art jets landing at airports across the Asia Pacific. Vinaka vakalevu Makareta for creating a design that all Fijians can be proud of.
Finally, I want to say something to the most important people of all - the customers of the new Fiji Airways. My government supports competition. You always have a choice when it comes to deciding which airline you fly. But as your Prime Minister, I appeal to you to consider making the new Fiji Airways your first choice whenever you travel.
It is our national airline. It belongs largely to us. It is a symbol of our nation and its determination to succeed. Fly the airline with the masi on it. I wish the new Fiji Airways, all who fly on it, and my fellow Fijians the very best on this historic day. Thank you. Vinakavakalevu.