Up to 6000 passengers could be hit by the Samoan government's decision to deny Virgin Australia the right to fly from Auckland to Apia.

Virgin Australia had planned to fly five return services a week from the middle of next month but said today this had been refused.

The airline had run a joint-venture service on the route with the Samoan government for the last decade. But Samoa is now, in conjunction with Fiji Airways, about to launch its own airline, Samoan Airways.

A Virgin spokeswoman said it was working to re-accommodate affected passengers as "a matter of priority" and would discuss their options.


This could include rerouting passengers through Australia, from which proposed flights to Apia have been approved, or giving them refunds.

''Virgin Australia is disappointed with the Samoan government's decision. At this stage, we are working in conjunction with the Australian government to explore options to encourage the Samoan government to reconsider its decision,'' the spokeswoman said.

Tickets had been sold for the past two months.

''It is very common for airlines to sell tickets prior to regulatory approval being granted and all passengers who purchased tickets were advised that the ticket was still subject to relevant regulatory approvals.''

Flights between Brisbane, Sydney and Apia have been approved by the Samoan government and these flights will start on November 13.

Early in September Virgin said it was excited about the service.

However, the Samoan government signalled in May it wanted to take a different direction when it ended the joint venture with Virgin.

A letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to Virgin Australia's chief executive John Borghetti stated the Cabinet had unanimously decided not to renew the agreement, the Samoa Observer reported.


"The Cabinet has decided that the current arrangement of the JV is no longer the direction that government and ultimately Samoa should take at this time," the letter said.

Samoa Airways will next month begin a six-times-a-week service using a 170-seat two-class Boeing 737-800 with eight seats in business class and 162 in economy.

A response from the Samoan government to Virgin Australia's statement today has been sought.

The Auckland-Apia route has traditionally been strong for "friends and family" traffic and the country is now getting more tourists from New Zealand. Latest figures show 59,000 visitors from New Zealand went to Samoa in the past year, up more than 8 per cent on the previous 12 months.

Air New Zealand is also increasing its services, using Dreamliners on the route this summer.