Am. Samoa Port Director To Explore Waiver For Clearance Fee

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FAA rules apparently don’t allow Pago Pago airport to apply fee

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 13, 2015) – Port Administration Director, Taimalelagi Dr Claire Tuia Poumele says there is a legal issue regarding the Administration’s bill calling for a $20 clearance fee travelers leaving the airport and port for foreign countries will have to pay, and she intends to explore obtaining a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the territory.

Last week the House of Representatives unanimously approved their version along with the Senate’s identical version of the bill. The house version of the bill now goes to the Senate for their review and approval. Responding to Samoa News queries the director stated that imposing a fee on travelers from the local airport goes against Federal Law.

The Director told Samoa News that FAA’s Western Pacific Division administrator Anthony Garcia emailed the Port indicating that provisions of the FAA Act of 1958 prohibit such a fee. According to the Port Director, the Act does not allow "a collection of a tax, fee, head charge, or other charge, directly or indirectly, on persons traveling in air commerce or on the carriage of persons traveling in air commerce or on the sale of air transportation or on the gross receipts derived there from."

She further told Samoa News that this matter is now in the hands of Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale who is looking at ways to obtain a waiver for American Samoa in connection with the act.

The Director says that while the provisions of the bill are not in accordance with Federal law, in a letter to Fono leaders, the governor pointed out that American Samoa is in a unique position, "quite distinct from any other of the states and territories. We control and manage our own borders and do so, at our own expense."

According to the letter, Lolo stated that this is at a cost to territory and that elsewhere the cost of these border control functions are borne by the United States Government. The cost of providing these services has been absorbed by the government for many years, placing an increased burden upon all of the taxpayers. "We believe the costs of these services should be assumed, in part at least by the traveling public that is making use of them."

Lolo further stated that for this reason, the administration is proposing the adoption of a $20 clearance fee to be levied upon all departing passengers aboard common carriers departing the Port and the Airport.

According to the proposed measure, the $20 fee shall be collected by the common carrier whether by ocean or air transport and remitted to the Treasurer on the 15th of every month. The method of reporting passenger count and making remittance shall be in such form and manner as may be determined from time to time by the Treasurer.

The proposed measure shall not apply to the passengers of cruise ships, to the crew of commercial cargo, commercial fishing or scientific research vessels, to aircrew or to persons departing on yachts. Also it is not applied to US or foreign government naval vessels or military or diplomatic aircraft, nor to transient, non scheduled aircraft calling at airport or transit passengers on common carriers not exiting the departure lounge.

BACKGROUND

During a Senate committee discussion last week, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i called to table the bill for further review or to call in Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele for an explanation on the impact this would have on the millions of dollars in FAA funds for American Samoa.

He also noted that the bill targets travelers heading to foreign countries, such as Samoa and he is concerned this measure could result in the Samoa government turning around and hiking their entrance fee for U.S. Nationals entering the independent state—and if Samoa hikes the fee, that’s an additional burden for American Samoans heading to Apia, he said.

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