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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 15) – Governor Togiola said "nothing was spared" during his meeting with Hawaiian Airlines representative that attended last week's Island Business Opportunities Mission to American Samoa.

Hawaiian Air's senior director for Asia/Pacific development Dan Buruss was a last minute replacement for vice president of corporate communications Keoni Wagner who was originally scheduled to represent the airline.

Samoa News asked Togiola during last Thursday's press conference if he raised the issue of lowering airfares for the Honolulu-Pago Pago route and other concerns he has about air transportation with the Hawaiian Air representative.

"I reiterated to them (Hawaii), the concerns that I have expressed to their Chief Executive Officer Mr. [Mark] Dunkerley," was Togiola's reply. "And we were very frank in our meeting. Nothing was spared. But there were no hard feelings."

"I think, all in all, we have identified our issues, from our side and their side. We are going to continue to work toward positive solutions," Togiola continued. "We have in fact indicated to Hawaiian Airlines that American Samoa Government wishes very much to work with them and we don't want to be adversarial in the process."

"But they must also look at serving a community that relies on a single carrier, to serve the market and to be reasonable with - I think what I used was - we don't mind them being reasonably profitable. We want them to be profitable, we will help them be profitable, but being ridiculously profitable is not in anybody's interest," the governor said.

"So we need to work together, because I believe that if we are able to bring people (or visitors) into the territory they have the likelihood of increasing flights and they can make more money with more flights – they cannot make a whole lot of money with just two flights [a week] – but four or five flights a week and I'm sure the bottom line will make a big difference," he said.

Interior Department's deputy assistant secretary for Insular Areas, Papali'i David B. Cohen said he did not have much of a chance to meet with Hawaiian Air representative but Hawaiian has "heard concerns expressed in the community with the high cost of travel."

Department of Interior and American Samoa Government "are very much appreciative with Hawaiian participating in this mission," Cohen said.

Earlier this year, Togiola asked Dunkerley to reduce the airfare between Pago Pago and Honolulu, down to US$500 round-trip.

In a separate statement, the governor said he will continue to insist that Hawaiian airfares be reduced "because it continues to be an agonizing experience" for travelers "to pay high airfares on the Samoan route when a similar flight, and of the same length, to California on Hawaiian from Honolulu is drastically lower in price."

Responding, Dunkerley pointed to several key issues, including Tafuna airport's deplorable condition.

Dunkerley said the "deplorable condition" at Tafuna airport "has led to Hawaiian sustaining aircraft damage in the millions of dollars three times in the past four years."

Other contributing factors include high landing fee rates, excise taxes on fuel, escalating operational costs due to overtime payments to Customs and Immigration officers.

Notwithstanding current challenges, Dunkerley informed Togiola that Hawaiian considers "American Samoa to be an important part of our system and remains committed to providing the people of the Territory with the very best service possible."

Earlier this month, Senate President Lolo M. Moliga wrote to Togiola, urging the Executive Branch to work with Hawaiian to address some of their concerns and grant possible concessions to the Honolulu-based carrier.

May 16, 2006

The Samoa News: http://www.samoanews.com/

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