By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 9) - While the Fitiuta Airport, on Ta'u island is ready to accept a new generation of aircraft, such as a 37-passenger plane, the Ofu Airport needs extensive renovations.

If the Ofu Airport is to remain viable, revamping is definitely in the cards because in three years time Twin-otter aircraft, like the 19-passenger plane currently used by Samoa Air to service Manu'a, will be phase out under federal regulations.

Samoa Air's CEO Andre Lavigne told a House committee hearing recently that by 2007 the FAA will not allow an American airline to operate Twin-otter aircraft under the FAA's aging aircraft program aimed at upgrading commercial fleets with newer and more efficient models.

Lavigne told Samoa News yesterday that the new renovations at Fitiuta make the airport "practically ready to accept the new generation of aircraft, but it just needs full certification by the FAA."

He said the only thing left is just "a matter of paperwork and improvement to fire and rescue capability."

"The Fitiuta Airport will be able to handle larger aircraft than the twin-otter and will also be able to operate 24-hours a day, which is an advantage to Tau island residents," he added.

He said the Fitiuta airport "has a greater level of safety and gives us the opportunity to provide air service with much more modern equipment and service."

Samoa Air is currently negotiating the use of a 37-passenger plane from a New Zealand company that can be used under a temporarily emergency exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation and for future service. (see separate story)

"The Ofu Airport does not meet the technical requirement of the new and modern type of aircraft," said Lavigne and suggests three options to accommodate future needs for residents of Ofu when Twin-otters are phase out.

According to Lavigne, the Ofu Airport will need to be revamped, "which is expected to be costly"; or options could be an inter-island ferry to operate between Ta'u and Ofu islands to shuttle passengers upon arrival in Fitiuta on the larger aircraft; and/or to operate a 9-passenger plane between Ofu and Tau.

A 9-passenger plane is similar to an aircraft operated years ago by Manu'a Air and currently used by Polynesian Airlines for flights between Upolu and Savai'i island. The plane, called the Islander, also occasionally flies to Pago Pago.

"Our Twin-otter will not be legally allowed to operated in three years time and something has to be done no matter what," said Lavigne.

And if the carrier does secure right away the 37-passenger plane from a New Zealand firm, Lavigne said, "we may not want to keep the Twin-otter."

"But even if we keep the Twin-otter plane, we cannot use it in three years time. So the government needs to look very seriously at the issue of the Ofu Airport," said Lavigne and noting that ASG has already been informed about the FAA regulation on the phase-out of the Twin-otter.

September 15, 2003

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