Am. Samoa Governor Wants U.S. Support To Improve Air Services

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Lolo tells Insular Affairs about frustration with Hawaiian Airlines

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 16, 2014) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has again appealed to the U.S. Department of Interior for support in improving both domestic and international air service for American Samoa, that will not only boost tourism but aid economic development.

Lolo’s request was made in a letter last month to Esther Kia’aina, the new Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas. The letter included a list of economic and social developments for American Samoa from the Lolo Administration.

In his letter, Lolo shared with Kia’aina his frustrations with Hawaiian Airlines, the only carrier connecting American Samoa to Hawai’i and the U.S. mainland.

According to the governor, Hawaiian "has not been sensitive or responsive to our pleas for help relating to increasing the number of seats" between the territory and Honolulu as well as "reducing the fare based for this route".

He said two options are now available to American Samoa to "remedy this long term incapacitating tourism development challenge". They are to exempt American Samoa from federal cabotage law or start a new airline with government backing.

The governor pointed out that assistance is needed from DOI to support the territory’s cabotage waiver request, but he didn’t specify when an official request will be made to the federal government. Lolo also didn’t provide any details on the type of new airline the government would look to back.

Federal cabotage law prevents any foreign carriers from carrying passengers or cargo between two U.S. airports, and American Samoa for years has raised this same issue with DOI and other federal agencies, seeking support of the cabotage waiver for the territory which would allow airlines in the Pacific — such as Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways — to operate in and out of Pago Pago to the U.S.

In September this year, the Governor’s office launched an online petition, appealing to Congress to rethink the application of the Cabotage Policy when it comes to American Samoa.

The governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira told Samoa News at the time that "Cabotage Grass Roots Approach reflects the Governor's efforts to solicit and rally support from the community, businesses, Samoans living in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and others who are sympathetic to our attempt to improve air transportation services to the territory."

He said this has been a long standing economic development nemesis for the territory, which has stymied initiatives to grow our economy through the development of our tourism industry, and improve connectivity for Samoan families living on island and abroad.

The government’s final draft of the Economic Development Implementation Plan (EDIP) report, released in the summer this year, 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.

MANU’A AIR TRANSPORT

In his letter to Kia’aina, the governor explained that the Samoa government owned Polynesian Airlines is currently serving the territory’s domestic air service under a federal cabotage waiver.

He also said that two local airlines are in the process of being established, referring to Tausani Airlines and Manu’a Air. (Samoa News reported last week that ASG has taken back its 9-passenger seat Segaula plane and voided the MOU with Manu’a Air.)

Lolo asked DOI for their support in the territory’s proposed request to the U.S. Department of Transportation for qualification under the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) scheme for underserved areas.

Not mentioned in the letter is when the Lolo Administration will send the official request to USDOT. However, the governor raised the EAS issue during a Honolulu meeting early last year with other DOI officials. Previous administrations over the years have also raised the subject of EAS with federal officials with the goal to help subsidize air service for the Manu’a island group.

The EAS program was put into place to guarantee that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers before the 1978 deregulation would be able to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.

USDOT’s mandate is to provide the EAS communities with access to the national air transportation system. As a general matter, this is accomplished by subsidizing two to four round trips a day — with three being the norm — using a 19-seat aircraft to a major hub airport, according to the USDOT website, which also provides a complete list of current U.S. airports receiving the EAS subsidy.

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