AMERICAN SAMOA LOOKING FOR BETTER AIR SERVICE

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, June 5) - Governor
Togiola Tulafono has written to the Bush Administration for federal assistance,
hoping to find a solution to air transportation problems faced by American Samoa
on the Pago Pago to Honolulu route.

Local officials have loudly criticized recent air fare hikes by
Hawaiian Airlines, the territory’s sole link to Honolulu. Concerns have also
been raised over the frequency of passenger and mail service flights

Gov. Tulafono is seeking exemption from the federal government
under the "cabotage" law to allow qualified foreign carriers to
operate in and out of Pago Pago to another U.S. airport.

Late last month, Governor Togiola told the Samoa News that
besides talking to Honolulu-based Aloha Airlines, the government is also working
on addressing the federal "cabotage" law which would allow a foreign
carrier to operate between Honolulu and Pago Pago.

"I am also working on cabotage issues trying to get
exemption from cabotage rules in order to allow foreign airlines to upload and
off-load passengers and cargo between American Samoa and Honolulu," Togiola
explained at the time.

"This is necessary if we are going to be liberated from the
dilemma of having a monopoly air carrier, and will also change the landscape in
our airfreight market," he added.

Asked early this week if the government has filed for an
exemption with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding the
cabotage law, Togiola said Tuesday that he has sent off a letter to
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta "and have not heard anything
back."

The Governor said attorney general Fiti Sunia also met briefly
with DOT people when he was in Washington D.C. "last month at my request to
find out the best way to handle the problem."

"This is not going to be an easy task," the Governor
points out. "But I am committed to finding all possible solutions to the
transportation problem for our people."

"It will be very difficult and will need the help of a lot
of people and I intend to ask for the assistance of everyone that could possibly
help," he added.

While the Governor's letter to Secretary Mineta has not been
released to the media, the Samoa News obtained a copy of the May 12th letter
through various sources.

Togiola's letter, "Airline service to American Samoa",
requests Secretary Mineta's "support for relief from airline cabotage which
restricts the market for service to American Samoa and to seek treatment similar
to that enjoyed by Alaska."

The governor reminded Secretary Mineta that American Samoa is
located 2,500 miles from Hawaii and 1,600 from New Zealand and "we are, at
best, in a remote location."

He points out that Hawaiian Airlines currently provides two
weekly flights to the territory and a third weekly flight during the summer
months.

"The inadequacy of the service creates an undue hardship on
our people and our economy because we are impacted from both a restricted
passenger carriage service as well as a cargo supply service," Togiola
explained.

Hawaiian Airlines filed on March 21 of this year, bankruptcy
protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws.

While the limited services the Honolulu-based carrier provides
to American Samoa has not been affected by the bankruptcy filing so far, Togiola
informs Secretary Mineta that "we are concerned about the ultimate outcome
of this proceedings."

Togiola also informed the DOT secretary of the recent fare
increase for the Pago Pago route and the fact that Hawaiian's current limited
service "is not sufficient to insure a reliable and timely means of
evacuation for our medical referrals" and noted the case of the late
Governor Tauese Sunia. (See separate story on Togiola to meet with Hawaiian
Airlines' appointed Trustee.)

Secretary Mineta was also informed that the territory faces
insufficient delivery of mail due to limits imposed by Hawaiian Airlines.

"Because of our remote location and limited resources, our
economy is quite fragile and we are heavily dependent upon cargo flights to and
from the island," Togiola points out.

"Air freight to and from the Mainland is a life blood of
much of our business community," he said. "Many of the essentials
necessary for sustaining a business must be brought in by air."

"Further, because of the topography of Tutuila, we are
unable to produce sufficient quantities of agricultural products to sustain the
demands on our food supply and must rely, to a significant extent, on
air-freighted supplies from the mainland," Togiola explained.

He said Hawaiian Airlines "cannot accommodate this
demand."

"The current situation imposes on our people a restriction
on their right to travel and an exposure to unnecessary hardships," the
governor noted.

"It is with the goal of relieving these restrictions and
hardships and serving the public interest of American Samoa that I seek your
assistance in favorably considering the applications of otherwise qualified
foreign air carriers that may seek to supply commercial air traffic to the
Territory," Togiola continued.

"It is with this letter that I also seek to open a dialogue
with you regarding amendment of current federal legislation and/or regulations
that would allow American Samoa to obtain exemptions to its air carriage routes
similar to those benefiting the State of Alaska," he points out.

In conclusion the governor thanked Secretary Mineta for his
continued support of issues which confront the territories and Pacific
Islanders.

Cabotage laws prohibit foreign carriers, such as Polynesian
Airlines, from operating between two U.S. airports and exemptions are granted by
the federal Transportation Department only on certain circumstances and
conditions, such as emergency cases.

Such a case was granted not long ago which allowed Polynesian
Airlines - a Samoa government owned airline - to operate between Tafuna airport
and the two airports in Manu'a for emergency evacuation after at Samoa Air plane
at the time faced mechanical problems at the Fitiuta Airport.

Provisions of federal law, specifically "cabotage
traffic" gives DOT the authority to grant a foreign air carrier the right
to conduct commercial travel between U.S. points under limited circumstances,
according to DOT information in one of their latest rulings concerning a foreign
carrier wishing to operate between two U.S. airports on the mainland.

In particular, DOT must find that the authority is required in
the public interest; that because of any emergency created by unusual
circumstances not arising in the normal course of business the traffic cannot be
accommodated by U.S. carriers holding certain certificates; that all possible
efforts have been made to place the traffic on U.S. carriers; and that the
transportation is necessary to avoid unreasonable hardship to the traffic
involved.

June 6, 2003

Samoa News: www.samoanews.com 

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