PAGO LAWMAKERS SEEK AIR SERVICE TO REMOTE

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American Samoa’s Ofu, Olosega without air transport

By Tina Mata’afa PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, April 6, 2010) – In American Samoa, a House resolution requesting that the governor direct Port Administration to develop and implement an immediate action plan to address the lack of air service to Ofu and Olosega was passed in its first reading yesterday.

[PIR editor’s note: Ofu and Olosega are parts of a volcanic doublet in the Manu‘a Group of American Samoa. According to the 2000 census, Ofu and Olosega have no more than 300 people in each island.]

The resolution was introduced yesterday by House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Vaito’a Hans Langkilde.

It asks the governor to direct the Port Administration to not only develop but also implement an immediate action plan "which would comprehensively address and resolve the issue of lack of air service to Ofu and Olosega by improving the Ofu Airport and pursuing an Essential Air Service Designation for the Manu’a islands."

The resolution notes that based on testimony provided during a House Committee for Transportation held March 19, 2010, the House finds that the absence of air transportation to and from Ofu and Olosega Islands continues to represent a disservice to the people of not only the Manu’a islands but the territory as a whole.

The resolution points out that it has forced Ofu and Olosega residents to travel by sea to Ta’u for transportation to Tutuila, which is not just costly and inconvenient, but also exposes passengers to additional risks of the open ocean.

Additionally, says the resolution, the affect of no air service essentially forecloses promotion of the National Park as part of the Territory’s plan for tourism development, resulting in significant economic loss.

The measure says in October 2009, the only commercial carrier servicing Ofu and Olosega— Inter Island Airways— reluctantly ceased operations due to safety issues with the Ofu Airport.

Issues noted included the length and width of the air strip and lack of perimeter fencing.

"Inter Island will not resume air service until these issues are resolved," the resolution says.

It goes on to say that the government has been aware of these issues and concerns "for no less than four years."

At the request of the Department of Port Administration, a study plan for upgrading the Ofu Airport, including an environmental assessment was submitted by a private consulting firm in 2006 which presented a number of alternative proposals which would resolve the safety concerns, the least expensive of which was US$40 million, says the resolution.

"To date, no measurable progress has been made by the government toward pursuing any of the suggested proposals or toward seeking viable alternative solutions," the resolution reads.

It also notes that it appears the Manu’a islands would be eligible for a US Department of Transportation "Essential Air Service Designation" which would partially subsidize commercial air service to the islands and that such a designation could be immediately sought for Ta’u while the Ofu Airport upgrade is being pursued and completed.

It says support for such an approach has been expressed by Inter Island Airways and the Governor’s Office.

"The House … further finds that while the Ofu Airport rehabilitation project is complex and costly, to allow the current status of ‘no action’ to continue is a failure to provide for the general welfare of the people of the Manu’a Islands and is deserving of immediate attention and resolution," the resolution states.

The resolution requests the governor to instruct the Port to develop and implement an immediate plan of action which would resolve air service issues existing in Ofu and Olosega by seeking assistance from all appropriate federal agencies in order to expeditiously move forward with rehabilitation of the Ofu Airport in the most economical manner, and in such manner which would allow air service to Ofu/Olosega to resume at the earliest possible time.

It further asks that the governor instruct the Port to "contemporaneously and actively pursue a partial US Department of Transportation (DOT) Essential Air Service Designation for Ta’u and Fitiuta Airport and supplement the request at such time as air service to Ofu is resumed."

Copies have been provided to Gov. Togiola Tulafono, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, Manu’a District Governor Misaalefua Hudson, Port Director Matagi Ray McMoore, American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency Director Dr. Toafa Vaiaga’e, Nikolau Pula, the Director of the Office of Insular Affairs, Department of Interior, Gordon Wong with the Federal Aviation Administration and Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa.

The measure goes through its second reading today and if it passes, it will then go to the Senate for review and consideration.

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