Am. Samoa Development Plan Prioritizes Air Service Improvements

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Resolution to restrictive federal ‘cabotage’ law cited in plan

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 6, 2014) – Air service development for Pago Pago International Airport, as well as air service for Manu’a and Swains Islands has been cited as one of the seven target areas for American Samoa to consider, according to the newly released final draft of the Economic Development Implementation Plan (EDIP) report, compiled by the 16-member task force.

The Territorial Economic Development Implementation Plan Task Force was established early last year by executive order and tasked by the governor to develop an EDIP based upon a comprehensive review of the many existing economic plans and studies.

The EDIP is designed as a strategic guide to help American Samoa generate jobs, retain existing jobs, and stimulate industrial and commercial growth for the next decade, according to the summary of the 40-page EDIP, which was released this week.

For Air Service, the report said there is a need to resolve the federal ‘cabotage’ law issue and secure increased air carrier service for passengers and cargo in and out of Pago Pago International Airport.

[PIR editor’s note: Radio New Zealand International reported that the "government task force in American Samoa is recommending a federal study on the possibility of Pago Pago becoming an official port of entry into the United States."]

The task force acknowledged the challenges faced by American Samoa to getting this matter resolved. For example — How will it be possible for foreign air carriers to serve the American Samoa market?. The report notes that cabotage protects U.S carriers and Pago Pago, which is determined as a US port, receives funding from the federal government — i.e. the Federal Aviation Administration.

And therefore, any "attempts to make exceptions to the cabotage laws or rules to benefit American Samoa will clash with the powerful interests of US carrier(s)," the report says.

Another challenge for the territory is that it cannot force U.S. airlines to serve American Samoa more than is minimally required by federal law if the traffic does not warrant the additional flights.

"Therefore it is incumbent upon American Samoa to develop industries or pursue opportunities that result in more passengers on more flights from any airline to and from the Territory. Tourism is such an industry," it says.

Among actions recommended by the task force to address this issue is to continue working with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni to take up the cabotage matter in the U.S. Congress; to leverage a transportation study to reflect missed air service opportunities in the Pacific; and increase overall economic activity through sustainable economic development and growth, [so that] increased air carrier service will follow accordingly.

Additionally, recommendations include having Hawaiian Airlines increase flights to three flights a week, adding a 4th flight during peak periods of December, April, and "summer"; assessing the feasibility of locating an aviation center to include aviation maintenance technology and flight training programs in American Samoa; and assessing the feasibility of a public/private partnership of owning or operating an airline in American Samoa.

(Samoa News should point out that the cabotage law — which prohibits foreigner carriers from transporting cargo and passengers between two U.S. airports; for example between Pago Pago and Honolulu — has been discussed locally and with federal agencies over the years, but to no avail.)

In terms of the Manu’a island group, the EDIP recommends that all parties involved work on improving the Ofu Airport, in accordance with the Ofu Master Plan. Among the improvements should be widening the runway by 15 feet south and extending it by 600 feet west.

For Swains island, it is recommended that a feasibility study be conducted for the long term needs of air service to the atoll.

The report also recommended development of ocean transportation service and includes American Samoa working with neighboring countries.

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