Samoa Air gains 30 day okay to fly Tutuila-Manu'a route
The U.S. Department of Transportation has granted limited authority for 30-days only to Samoa based Islander Enterprises Samoa Ltd., to operate specific flights between Tutuila and the Manu’a island group.
Islander Enterprises, doing business as Samoa Air, filed last November an application for cabotage exemption to transport persons, property, and mail between Pago Pago International Airport, and the Fitiuta and Ofu airports in Manu’a using a nine-seater and a three-seater aircraft.
Samoa Air states that grant of its request is primarily necessary to meet a critical need for reliable air transportation services required to enable the physicians and clinical staff of the Manu'a Health System and the rural access hospital in the Manu' a Islands to provide vital medical services to the islands' residents, according to the USDOT decision.
Former governor Togiola Tulafono had specifically supported the request for emergency medical transportation of passengers and/or cargo.
Samoa Air pointed out that no U.S. carrier has provided air service to Ofu Airport for some three years. It further asserts that there is a pressing need to supplement the current, but highly irregular, flights offered by local Inter Island Airways to the Fitiuta airport.
Moreover, Samoa Air asserts that its proposed services will also ensure that others, seeking non-medical-related air transportation between Pago Pago and the Manu'a Islands, have means to do so rather than being required to travel by slower surface transportation. Samoa Air requests that this authority be granted for a period of 30 days.
Inter Island didn’t object to Samoa Air’s request for an emergency and time-limited (30 days) exemption to conduct the proposed services. Inter Island requests that it be granted an opportunity to comment should Samoa Air seek an extension beyond the 30-day duration specified in its request.
“We are granting Samoa Air’s request to operate its proposed intra-American Samoa services in part, specifically authorizing it to conduct services limited to the emergency medical transportation of passengers and/or cargo,” wrote Susan L. Kurland, USDOT’s assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs in the three-page decision.
“We will grant [the] request for a period of 30 days, that is, March 22, 2013, through April 21, 2013. We are denying the remaining portion of Samoa Air’s application, that is, its request for authority to transport passengers and/or cargo unrelated to emergency medical transportation,” she said.
Additionally, the USDOT’s action permitting the applicant to conduct intra-American Samoa emergency medical transportation of passengers and/or cargo, meets relevant criteria in federal law for the grant of an exemption of this type, for a period of 30 days, and that the grant was required in the public interest.
Kurland pointed out that American Samoa is an isolated community uniquely dependent on air transportation, and “the record before us indicates that the lack of air transportation services available to the residents of the Manu'a Islands negatively impacts their ability to obtain emergency medical services.”
“We have determined that, in the circumstances presented, this situation constitutes an emergency not arising in the normal course of business,” she said.
A footnote in the ruling states that “Consistent with the statements made by the applicant in its application and because the authority granted here permits cabotage operations, we will expect Samoa Air, if approached to conduct a flight covered by this exemption between Pago Pago and Fitiuta Airport, to ascertain the availability of service by Inter Island and to give it the option of conducting the flight provided it can do so within a reasonable period of time in consideration of the urgent nature of the required transportation.”
Kurland also said the “record indicates that Samoa Air’s services should provide the residents of the Manu'a Islands, and the physicians and clinical staff of the Manu'a Health System and the rural access hospital in the Manu' a Islands, with air transportation necessary to enhance the availability of emergency medical services to the islands' residents.”
“Based on the record in this proceeding, we concluded that no U.S. carrier had aircraft available that could be used to conduct the operations at issue here. We also found that grant of this authority would prevent unreasonable hardship to the residents of American Samoa,” she said. “Finally, we found that the applicant was qualified to perform its proposed operations.”
In taking this action, “we find that it is in the public interest to closely monitor the carrier’s operations,” she said. “In this regard, we specifically put Samoa Air on notice that in any requests for subsequent extensions of this authority, we would expect to see a description of the carriers’ cabotage operations for the previous 30-day period.”
“We expect this description include at a minimum the number of flights completed between U.S. points, the number of passengers carried on each flight, the circumstances of each flight, and a statement as to whether Samoa Air ascertained the availability of Inter Island and gave it the option of conducting the flight within a reasonable period of time,” she said.
As to Samoa Air’s request that the scope of its authority encompass the transportation of other passengers and cargo as an alternative to transport by slower surface transportation, “we found, based on the record before us and in the circumstances presented, that this portion of the applicant’s request would not address an emergency not arising in the normal course of business” according to federal laws, she said.
“Therefore, we deny that portion of its request. Except to the extent exempted/waived, this authority is subject to our standard exemption conditions. We may amend, modify, or revoke the authority granted in this Notice at any time without hearing at our discretion,” said the USDOJ official.
Samoa Air launched two weekends ago flights between Maota, Savai’i and the Tafuna airport with plans to operate flights out of Faleolo and Fagali’i airports in Upolu as well.