U.S. House Committee Approves Longer Cabotage Waiver For American Samoa Flights

Current law limits waivers to 30 days; inhibiting air service to territory

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 19, 2016) – A US congressional committee has passed by voice vote, a federal measure, which includes a provision that will give foreign carriers a longer cabotage waiver when they apply to operate American Samoa’s domestic flights.

Current federal law calls for only a 30-day cabotage waiver and any renewal is only 30-days. And due to the lack of a US carrier having an interest in the route, the Samoa government owned Polynesian Airlines has been operating flights between Tutuila and Manu’a island group since 2014 under 30-day cabotage waivers — although the airline at times has requested a longer period.

Congresswoman Aumua Amata and US Sen. Lisa Murkowski have been working from both sides of the US Congress, with the support of Interior Assistant for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina, to address the cabotage waiver issue for the territory’s domestic flights through separate measures introduce in both the US House and US Senate.

Last week Wednesday, the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Murkowski, took up several measures including the Omnibus Territorial Act, which includes Amata’s cabotage bill.

Amata said in a news release last Thursday that she is pleased to see the US Senate is moving forward with this important legislation that will among other things, make the permitting process much easier for foreign carriers providing the territory’s Manu’a flights under a federal cabotage waiver.

“I am hopeful that by easing these burdensome regulations more foreign carriers will begin to service the route, thereby increasing competition and reducing the cost of travel for our people between the islands,” she said.

US Senate committee records show an amendment was made to the provision for Manu’a cabotage waiver before it was approved by voice vote.  The amendment called for the US Department of Transportation to grant a waiver for at least 180 days for American Samoa in order to provide sustained air transportation between the main island of Tutuila and the Manu’a island group.

A renewable waiver, according to the amendment, should not be more than 180 days.

Samoa News wasn’t able to obtain information yesterday from Congressional records as to when the Omnibus Territorial Act will go to the full Senate floor for debate and a vote. If passed by the Senate, it then goes to the US House for consideration.

In her news release, Amata thanked Murkowski “for working with me on this important legislation for the people of American Samoa, and I am eager to see it quickly pass through Congress” and be signed by President Barack Obama.

Samoa News should point out that the cabotage waiver does not include the US- Pago route, which has been the focus of past and present administrations, especially the Honolulu- Pago route. Currently, Hawaiian Air is the only airline that flies the route and the high fares charged by the airline has been cited as one of the main reasons the local government seeks a cabotage waiver. A second concern is with only one airline servicing the Territory this severely impacts tourism.

The Samoa News
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